“UNIVERSITY OF LOSEIVILLE” was sent out in a Tweet from ESPN Sports Business reporter and Twitter troll master Darren Rovell after Friday’s loss to UCF. It’s a message that will forever be linked to that awful night, and something I’ve pondered on over the weekend.
Despite being implicated in today’s University of Miami sanctions, Louisville made the decision today to keep Assistant Football Coach Clint Hurtt on the Louisville staff. Perhaps a better nickname for UofL is the University of Loyalville.
The NCAA’s report stated that Hurtt was an intermediary between University of Miami recruits and Nevin Shapiro a prominent booster. Hurtt used an unregister cell phone to make calls to recruits that wouldn’t be tracked by the NCAA. Hurtt also was found to have arranged for recruits to receive improper benefits and even the impermissible transportation and lodging for them.
However, the biggest news was the NCAA’s allegation that Hurtt was dishonest in the interviews with NCAA’s enforcement. UofL officials had previously remarked that if Hurtt stayed truthful with college athletics, the university would stand by him.
When athletic director Tom Jurich announced Louisville’s decision to retain the embattled assistant he challenged the NCAA’s assumption that Hurtt lied. To be fair, the NCAA continues to lose credibility and standing up to them isn’t exactly hard to do these days.
This isn’t the first time that Tom Jurich has remained loyal to a coach in the face of criticism. Louisville athletics took much ire for keeping Rick Pitino at the helm of Louisville basketball despite the publicity of his extramarital affair.
Of course Pitino’s case didn’t endanger the compliance of the University of Louisville, but it angered many donors and supporters of the University. They felt that UofL needed to maintain a high behavioral standard. However, Tom Jurich made no such decision and Pitino redeemed himself a few years later with a National Championship.
Jurich has developed a certain reputation for building loyalty in his employees. He has given second chances to his employees when necessary and has been redeemed for his decisions. Pitino and Hurtt aren’t the only times he’s stood behind someone in the program. He could have cut ties with Charlie Strong after Strong flirted with leaving for Tennessee. As his former right hand Julie Hermann faced a maelstrom of negative press, Jurich stood behind her firmly. Loyalty has become Jurich’s M.O. and thus it has become Louisville’s.
Charlie Strong has incorporated the building of loyalty into his program, bringing in players like Michael Dyer and Zeke Pike who left previous program due to personal issues. Strong has given these players a chance at redemption; a chance to show their ability to be loyal. They have taken these opportunities graciously, and so far have proved deserving.
For the most part it’s worked. Louisville has shot up to become a near-powerhouse program, one with the facilities and finances to match almost anyone. Being the University of Loyalville has been great.
But for all the positives, there have been negatives. The media has already questioned Louisville’s reasoning for retaining Hurtt. Some personalities have suggested that he tarnishes Louisville’s “culture of compliance.” It’s an acceptable argument; one that comes with the territory.
So why keep Hurtt? He’s been off the recruiting trail for a good period of time already and fellow assistant coach Tommy Restivo has done quite well in his stead. Perhaps Jurich is showing loyalty in two ways; loyalty first to Hurtt, but loyalty foremost to Strong.
Call it a conspiracy theory, but Hurtt’s relationship with Strong cannot go unmentioned. In remarks Friday afternoon, Strong stood behind his assistant coach, and Hurtt himself mentioned that Strong could have fired him. With word spilling this weekend that the National Football League’s has identified Strong as a potential minority coaching candidate, this move couldn’t have come at a better time. This move is a win-win for multiple reasons, it allows Jurich to please Charlie Strong, take a jab at the farce known as the NCAA, and let’s not forget that Hurtt remains one of the country’s best recruiters.
Keeping Hurtt may harm Louisville’s public relations in the short term, but Tom Jurich isn’t concerned about the comment sections of Wildcat fan sites. He’s concerned with building a strong program, and keeping Hurtt does that. Like it or not, keeping Hurtt has far more positives than negatives. If Jurich truly believes that Hurtt won’t jeopardize Cardinal football with future compliance issues, then that’s a gamble worth taking.
However, there are no guarantees that everything will all work out. Hurtt may have come out Thursday and admitted all fault. He may have asked to move on, but there certainly has to be that part in the back of the collective minds of Louisville fans that remains worried. Loyalty only means so much, but everything can fall apart so quickly.
For every Charlie Strong who announces his heart remains with Louisville football, there’s a Bobby Petrino who betrays the trust of a fan base. The tragic thing about loyalty is that it takes so much time, effort, and attention to build, but it takes just one simple and swift motion to destroy.