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University of Louisville cuts ties with Jurich; Pitino subpoenaed by grand jury

By Russ Brown
Kentucky today

Concluding a historic and monumental three days for the University of Louisville, the school’s board of trustees fired long-time and highly-successful athletics director Tom Jurich Wednesday afternoon.

On Monday, the University of Louisville Athletic Association (ULAA) fired men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino in the face of an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball that includes Louisville.

Also, Wednesday, Pitino’s lawyer, Steve Pence, confirmed that his client has received a grand jury subpoena and said Pitino is “gathering documents for the U.S. attorney.”

Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich (File photo)

In remarks to The Courier-Journal, Pence tried to minimize the existence of the subpoena and did not say what specific documents Pitino is turning over to the U.S. attorney.

“If the FBI thinks you have anything, like on your phone or any records, they don’t issue a subpoena, they issue a warrant and they take it, so you can’t destroy anything,” Pence said.

Like Pitino, Jurich was fired “with cause,” but interim Louisville president Greg Postel declined to reveal what that cause was or answer any questions about the matter after reading a brief statement. Postel is not a voting member of the board, but attends the meetings and is its spokesperson.

“On behalf of the board of trustees, we thank those who have taken the time to write us in the past weeks,” Postel said in his prepared statement. “Your passion and support for the University of Louisville will ensure that our best days are ahead of us. To our students, faculty, staff and Cards fans, this is our opportunity to demonstrate the unity and integrity that define being a Louisville Cardinal.”

The board spent about three hours in executive session discussing the matter, then voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, who has led Cardinal athletics for 20 years. Jurich didn’t appear but was represented by his lawyer, Alison Stemler, who spoke to the board for 10 minutes.

The three board members who voted against the resolution to terminate Jurich — Brian Comer, Diane Medley and Ron Wright — each spoke in favor of retaining Jurich prior to the roll call.

“I am not in favor of the motion,” Comer said. “I’m a business lawyer here in town, I’m also a former college athlete. So that’s my perspective. When I look at what’s in the best interest of the university, that’s not where I come out on it. I look at the history of what the athletic facilities have done over the last 20 years (and) getting in the ACC is kind of unbelievable to me that the university has been transformed in that manner.

“That doesn’t mean everything is perfect. There are major issues in basketball, we all know that. What I would favor doing is trying to pursue discussions with Mr. Jurich to address concerns, maybe have a revamped arrangement.”

Wright said that rather than dismissal, Jurich deserves thanks from the university and the city for his accomplishments

“I come from an outside opinion,” Wright said. “I grew up in Michigan and going down to Florida I would always pass by old Cardinal Stadium. As I continued to pass through this area it changed dramatically and when I got here for medical school I found out that Tom Jurich was the instigator of that change and I appreciate Tom for what he’s done for this university, this community, for the athletics and for the academic side. I think He is owed some thanks for those things and I hope we as a board can somehow relay to Mr. Jurich some thanks for the service he’s provided to this community.”

Ms. Medley said she believes the success of Louisville’s athletics programs under Jurich has improved the image of the school.

“I’m one of the few members here that actually graduated from this university, so I have a warm heart for it and I feel like the value of my diploma has increased because of what’s gone on with athletics,” Medley said. “It hasn’t been without some ups and downs, but I feel those should be talked through, so I do not support this motion.”

When Jurich was suspended with pay on Sept. 27, Postel wrote in a letter that the FBI probe was “disburbing and unprecedented.” He said the FBI’s criminal complaint “insinuates a scheme of fraud and malfeasance in the recruitment of student-athletes involving multiple members of your men’s basketball coaching staff.”

Postel also criticized Jurich for the negotiations regarding the $160 million contract extension with Adidas that Postel said were “conducted without timely or appropriate consultation” with his office or ULAA. Jurich’s lawyer denied the claims.

The board’s decision came after three weeks of public and private debate, with Jurich’s supporters marshaling their forces in an attempt to convince the trustees to retain him.

At least two prominent boosters, Jim Patterson and Dr. Mark Lynn, wrote letters to Postel and the trustees urging them to retain Jurich. And 15 of Louisville’s head coaches signed a letter of support listing many of his accomplishments. Only Dale Cowper (track), Sandy Pearsall (softball) and Jeff Walz (women’s basketball) were not signees.

Since arriving from Colorado State in 1997, Jurich has been responsible for the most dramatic progress in athletics in Louisville history. Largely through private donations, he has transformed the school’s campus into state-of-the-art facilities, raised the national profile of many of the Cardinals’ teams and convinced the Atlantic Coast Conference to accept Louisville as a new member four years ago.

In the most impressive example, Louisville’s 2012-13 “Year of the Cardinal” marked the first time in NCAA history that a school had won a BCS-level bowl game, placed both men’s and women’s basketball teams in the Final Four and reached the College World Series in the same season.

Stemler, Jurich’s lawyer, sent the trustees a 42-page letter Monday detailing why Louisville should keep Jurich as AD. She said that “parting ways with (Jurich) isn’t in the university’s best interest, especially now, when strong leadership is needed to be sure donor support remains intact, fans continue to buy tickets and NCAA punitive damage is minimized.”

However, even before the latest scandal in the basketball program, there was tension between Jurich and the administration. It became public when trustee and Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium benefactor John Schnatter told Postel that leadership in the athletic department was “invisible.”

“Until you fix athletics, you can’t fix this university,” Schnatter said at the time. “You have to fix the athletics first. I mean, I’ve looked at this eight ways to Sunday. You’ve got to fix the athletics first, and then the university will get in line.”

A week later, Jurich appeared before the ULAA board and defended athletics and his tenure. Schnatter has repeatedly declined to elaborate on those remarks or reveal specifically what he had in mind.

Besides three scandals in the basketball program in nine years and the Adidas contract, Jurich also came under fire recently after a blistering internal audit that showed, among other things, that Jurich had been paid $19 million over the past seven years.

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports for Kentucky Today. He can be reached at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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