Tom Jurich is Louisville's MVP

June, 26, 2013
6/26/13
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The college sports calendar is on the verge of flipping to the next season, so it seems appropriate to reflect on the season that was.

Undoubtedly, there has been no bigger story in collegiate athletics than Louisville over the past year.

[+] EnlargeTom Jurich
Timothy D. Easley/AP PhotoTom Jurich has guided the Cardinals from an athletic department in disarray to one that is winning national titles and moving to the ACC.
But you will never hear the man running the athletic department say that. Tom Jurich uses words like "magical" to describe the incredible run of success the Cardinals had in 2012-13, punctuated by an impending move to the ACC, as if outside forces pulled invisible strings to get Louisville where it is.

No magic was required. Jurich, widely recognized as one of the savviest athletic directors in the entire business, saw a small window in November to make up for a lost opportunity. Last year, the Big 12 decided on West Virginia over Louisville. Mountaineers fans rejoiced. Louisville fans cringed.

But when Maryland left for the Big Ten, Jurich had his second chance. If you know Tom Jurich, then you know he was not going to let this opportunity slip away. He started being proactive. And he ignored all the outside speculation that UConn was next in line to join the ACC. So much so, that a recent conversation about how Louisville got into the ACC went this way:

How did you outmaneuver UConn to get into the ACC?

"I didn’t outmaneuver anybody," Jurich said. "I just put our story out there."

Well, UConn was thought to be the favorite to get the spot.

"Nobody told me that," Jurich said. "So I just worried about selling Louisville. That’s all I worried about."

Turns out, the on-field-product backed up his salesmanship. In the time Louisville joined the ACC:

  • The football team beat Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
  • Jurich signed coach Charlie Strong to an eight-year contract extension worth $3.7 million annually, which makes him the seventh-highest paid coach in college football and highest paid in the ACC.
  • The men's basketball team won a national title.
  • The women's basketball team played for a national title.
  • The baseball team made the College World Series.
  • Louisville became one of just four schools since 1998 to win football, men's basketball and baseball conference titles in the same season. Kansas Sate also did it this year. Stanford did it in 1999-00 and Texas in 2005-06.

Strong calls Jurich "amazing" and the "mastermind" behind the entire athletic department. Indeed, Jurich inherited a department in shambles when he arrived in 1997 and turned it into one that has made two big conference leaps (first C-USA to the Big East) and will now have the second-highest athletics budget in the ACC. Only Florida State spends more.

If the first conference move can be used as an example, then Louisville clearly benefited from the step up in competition. Critics, however, will point out that this step -- from a watered-down Big East to the ACC -- is even bigger. Jurich knows that.

"That’s the important thing. It’s not so much winning a national title here or playing for another one or winning the Sugar Bowl. It’s: How do we sustain it?" he said. "Certainly my expectations are not -- we’re not going to be at that level every year but I want to be in that conversation every year."

Louisville already has plans to build an $8 million academics center for its student-athletes, and is in the very preliminary stages for revamping its football complex. Jurich says he will spend more on athletics only if it is good for the school and community. But he clearly knows what's at stake.

And where Louisville still has to go, despite its success this sports season.

"We’ve got a strategic plan in our department that we live by and that’s just to get better every single day and we’re going to do everything we possibly can to get better every single day," Jurich said. "We will never rest on our laurels. We’re always going to be very humble and hungry and we’re always going to be a blue-collar school."

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