Louisville Fans Should Hope For the Death Penalty

It has been one hell of a week for the University of Louisville. Head basketball coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were both put on administrative leave this week following reports from the FBI that most recent signee Brian Bowen had received improper benefits from Adidas, the schools athletic apparel sponsor.

First things first: Pitino and Jurich both deserve to lose their jobs and if you think otherwise, you’re delusional. They are both some of the dirtiest characters in college athletics and have finally been outed for it. Good riddance to both. Which leads me to my second point: this situation could have been avoided (or at least lessened) by paying college athletes. It’s a disgrace that the NCAA is still a middleman to all this and I hope this will be a catalyst toward getting these athletes paid.

Something that Louisville fans may not be thinking about, or fans in general, is that this latest scandal raises questions about the legitimacy of the past 20 years of Louisville athletics. It’s pretty clear at this point, given his handling of the situation, that Jurich is not running his programs in a way that is acceptable by NCAA standards and when you look at the entire athletic department, some questions that should have been asked before now become more glaring. How does a university like Louisville develop all it’s sports into top 25 programs in under 20 years? The statistics counter Jurich hiring outstanding coaches in every sport, especially to a midwest city like Louisville. But let’s pretend he was able to lure all these coaches above the board. One is Pitino and another is Bobby Petrino, so you’re not off to a great start character wise. And maybe Dan McDonald is the Nick Saban of college baseball, but how is it that the biggest programs in college baseball are essentially the teams from California, the teams from Texas, the teams from the south, and then Louisville. Maybe McDonald is that persuasive, but I’d rather play in one of those other places for a variety of reasons. Women’s basketball came out of nowhere when it hired Jeff Walz in 2007, who had been a lifetime assistant. Again, maybe Walz is THAT DUDE. But you’re now talking about a university essentially lucking into TWO top 3 coaches in two separate sports, and neither of those sports is basketball, which your university was built on. This is obviously all speculation on my part, but I have serious questions about how some of this stuff got done.

Now, getting out of the politics of it, where does (and should) the university go from here? You have a top-10 program who was about to go into the season expecting a run at a title now facing the likely possibility of receiving the death penalty. They are looking for a coach for this season, because they will still compete this year despite the FBI and NCAA looking into everything. I think there is almost no chance, given the Katina Powell situation earlier this year coming to a close, that Louisville avoids the death penalty. So, what should Louisville be hoping for?

Honestly, I think at this point, the death penalty would be the best case scenario for the basketball program. To be clear, this would destroy a lot of money coming into the university and the city, but last time I checked, the FBI doesn’t care about your cities economics. But, in terms of the program itself, you need a reboot. Louisville is a top 7 all-time basketball program, with a storied history and a big following. I believe that if you don’t clean house completely and sit it out a few years, you will forever have a cloud over the program. The new coach will have an absolute disaster of a mess to clean up, plus the NCAA penalty will be so harsh, it will feel like a death penalty while still being able to play the game. It’s college purgatory and will set the program back much farther than it already is.

So let’s paint a much prettier picture. It’s 2023. Louisville got the death penalty. All the players on the roster, who may or may not have received benefits as well, are all gone. The entire coaching staff, gone. Assistants, secretaries, everybody is gone. You have a new athletic director, one who is going to build it right. He’s already run Petrino out of town, because at this point the university can’t afford to take anymore PR hits, and because Petrino isn’t as good a coach as he was. He’s already hired a young upstart for the football team (Jeff Brohm?) and now, he’s looking for the same for the basketball program. David Padgett did an admirable job for the 2017-18 season, the team made the tournament as a six seed and got beat in the second round. He was playing against a stacked hand. The new AD goes to hire another young guy as the basketball coach, one without any direct coaching ties to Pitino (Bashir Mason, Matt McCall, Will Wade?) and he is given a 7 year contract. Plenty of time to build it his way and evaluate as they go. Louisville has been scrubbed clean of all the dirt it accumulated and the reputation has been (somewhat) restored. I like that picture a whole lot better than letting Padgett flounder for a few years trying to salvage a burning ship. He may stop the fire, but the ship needs some major work before it’s operational.

UofL Has Lost It’s Moral High Ground

I think it’s about time something was said, and it’s not an attack, although that’s how it will be perceived. The University of Louisville has lost it’s moral high ground in the scape of the NCAA. And to be honest, in hindsight, I’m not sure how much of one it ever had.

Growing up as a Louisville fan lead me to a certain feeling of privilege. From the days of John L. Smith and the tail end of Denny Crum’s tenure with the basketball team, we always had the “plucky underdog” feel. We never got the air time that it seemed like Kentucky did, and we developed things the “right way”. We were on a “collision course” and we were along for the ride.

Things didn’t start to feel strange until Bobby Petrino left in 2006. He left the university in the dead of night. I still remember being on our home computer and seeing the update on ESPN. I told my parents and they thought I was joking. Bring in Steve Kragthorpe, and all of a sudden we had “behavioral problems” in the locker room. I’m not going to defend Kragthorpe, because at the end of the day, a coaches job is to win. I will say, though, that maybe Petrino wasn’t bringing in the most high quality individuals to play for him.

Petrino went on to ungracefully leave from the Atlanta Falcons and have a fresh scandal in Arkansas involving a volleyball player and a motorcycle.

In 2009, we were all first introduced to Karen Sypher. I won’t go into it here, because honestly if you’re reading this, you know what happened. While it isn’t a basketball related issue, and I agree that it isn’t a fireable offense, it’s a terrible black mark on the university.

Then came Katina Powell. To say it bluntly, Pitino should have been fired. Adding in the Sypher issue years ago, this was an issue with recruits, in on-campus dorms and if he didn’t know, then he should have. It’s his responsibility as the head coach. The thing that truly bothered me about this though, is that once everything came out, there wasn’t at least a bigger uproar of people calling for his termination. The fan base, from my observation, was largely defending everyone except Powell and Andre McGee, the ringleader of the whole thing. I expect fans to be irrational about their teams, but I heard almost no fans calling for a firing. That’s embarrassing to me, and it also signaled something.

The standards of our higher education facilities have plummeted in favor for more money and exposure. To be clear, the NCAA is at fault as well. The entire idea of college athletics is such a cess pool of dirty, disgusting practices that I find it hard to pull for anyone involved outside of the student-athlete themselves.

These major examples aside, we haven’t even talked about James Ramsey, the university’s former president. He oversaw over 20 scandals, almost all financially related, between 2008 and 2016 when he resigned. This includes bribery, cover-ups and theft.

The whole reason for this stream of thoughts is at the beginning: the moral high ground. I didn’t get the sense that the Powell situation humbled anyone, which is concerning. The irony of mocking Kentucky for years about losing their championship banner due to some kind of violation by John Calipari, only to be at risk of losing Louisville’s own is not lost on me. The Powell situation was everyone else’s opportunity to knock Louisville, and it was met with backlash, like this fan base hasn’t been doing the knocking. It was hypocritical at best, ignorant at worst.

Again, I know this is going to lead to a lot of backlash against myself. Unfortunately, I know how fans are. I think, though, that it’s something every fan base, not just Louisville’s, needs to hear. Looking in the mirror every once in awhile isn’t such a bad thing.

Lamar and the Other Guys

Photo: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The Heisman Trophy will be presented to the nations “most outstanding player” on Saturday night. For many Louisville fans, this is the last chance to capture something remarkable on what looked to be a special season before losing the final two games of the season. Lamar Jackson has been the Heisman frontrunner essentially since the beginning, but the last two games have let the field gain some traction.

To get it out of the way early, I do believe Jackson will run away with the trophy, and I believe he is the most deserving of it. My rank of the finalists is as follows:

  1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
  2. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
  3. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
  4. Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma
  5. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

The historical numbers certainly favor Jackson. Teammates inevitably hurt each other for the most part, due to the fact that the votes tend to get split between them. That being said, there has been one defensive player to  win the award (Charles Woodson, DB) which still puts Mayfield and Westbrook over Peppers. There is also a quarterback bias in recent years. In total, 44 of the Heisman winners have been halfbacks/runnning backs, and 33 have been quarterbacks. However, since 1990, there have been 6 running backs selected and 17 quarterbacks selected. All of this favors both Lamar and Watson, who most believe are the two front runners.

So when we rule out the three farthest from contention, we’re left with the two ACC quarterbacks. Watson was a finalist last season, finishing third behind Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry, who won the award. Here’s how the two quarterbacks stats match up:

  • Watson: Passing- 3914 yards, 37 TD, 15 INT ..Rushing- 524 yards, 6 TD
  • Jackson: Passing- 3390 yards, 30 TD, 9 INT ..Rushing- 1538 yards, 21 TD

Jackson has almost 500 more yards of total offense and 8 more touchdowns than Watson does. That’s a huge difference when you consider Jackson also played one less game.

The two biggest knocks on Jackson is the teams record (9-3 with a loss in Death Valley to Clemson) and his turnovers down the stretch of the season. In the loss to Kentucky, Jackson had 3 interceptions and also had the game-ending fumble to seal the win for the Wildcats. However, in their head-to-head matchup this season, Jackson went toe to toe Watson. Jackson finished with 457 yards of offense and three touchdowns with only one interception. Watson finished with 397 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions.

What Would This Mean for the University of Louisville?

Lamar is the schools first player to be invited to New York as part of the ceremony. Of the 81 Heisman winners, only 36 current FBS schools have a Heisman winner in their history. That means only 28% of the 128 schools have winners. That’s a huge deal and would be program changing. Louisville built a statue for Johnny Unitas in the stadium. I can’t imagine what they will do for Lamar if he wins.

We all know the “first player to…” numbers Lamar has put up this season, so I won’t rehash them here. But there is something to be said for a player, who after 81 seasons of Heisman trophy presentations, is still doing things no one has ever seen. I remember in 2007 when Tim Tebow won the Heisman and everyone made a HUGE deal about the fact that he finished with 30+ passing touchdowns and 20+ rushing touchdowns, and Lamar has done that this season. In my mind, there is Lamar and the other guys. Hopefully of Saturday night, the voters will agree.

Louisville 54, NC State 13 Game Notes

  • This is the first time I noticed that our fans didn’t boo the opposing team coming out. I’m so glad we stopped doing that to teams that aren’t our rivals or at least highly ranked.
  • Seth Dawkins starts. Glad to see from the freshman.
  • Lamar made the defense sleep with all the passes. 36 yd TD run was beautiful and what we’re used to. 
  • Washington interception was perfect. Good pressure up front and the QB never saw Washington. 
  • Bad play calling on second drive off TO. Too much running. Lamar had a good throw away.
  • Lukayas McNeil two false starts on FG. Penalties and special teams issues combined into one!
  • Thank god he still made the field goal.
  • RB runs too much east to west. Louisville doing a great job sealing gaps and staying on the weak side. 
  • James Quick fumble was correct call on field. Just bad luck.
  • James Hearns is a bad bad man!
  • Penalties already terrible. Really ugly start to the game. It honestly feels like we’re going to spend more real time on special teams than offense or defense.
  • Lamar 74 yd pass to Jaylen Smith was a perfect example of how much Lamar has grown. Old Lamar would have gotten impatient and ran with the ball or been inaccurate on the throw. He was patient, read it perfect and threw it on a rope. 
  • Defense is looking great. 
  • Lamar bad reads on the option up to two.
  • 3 bad penalties on McNeil now. Has to be more disciplined. 
  • I can’t remember the last time Lamar just took a sack. It was jarring.
  • Jaylen didn’t block the defender downfield. It was the only reason Cole didn’t score on the wide open throw from Lamar.
  • Johnathan Greenard is going to be a great linebacker for us. I really like him.
  • #ColeLeap.
  • Blocked punt by Malik Williams was special. We don’t usually get big time plays on special teams.
  • I don’t understand how NC State didn’t use any timeouts. I get that you’re getting blown out, but you don’t even try to stop the momentum on a drive or anything? 
  • Terrible play calling in the red zone for the whole first half. Weird plays, bad choices and just overall terrible play calling.
  • Halftime. Good guys 44, Bad guys 0.
  • A few things: 1. The “Bobby!” Chants were amazing. 2. It was incidental contact. And 3. The more I watch Seth Dawkins, the more I’m reminded of what Julio Jones. Big, tall, fast, and incredibly gifted. It’s easy to see why he’s on the field as a true freshman with all the talent we have at the position. He’s going to be special. 
  • At the game, I have no clue how they called NC State’s first touchdown a touchdown. It looked like he came off the ground, caught the ball, and fell out of bounds. Hoping that it wasn’t that agregious on tv.
  • The offensive line has let up a few sacks. Not good that Lamar is taking the extra hits and not feeling the pressure.
  • 70 yd touchdown pass was just ugly. DB got burned and couldn’t make the tackle. Weird third quarter.
  • Weird quarter continues with Malik Williams fumble on the kick. Never understood the whole “carry the ball with one arm in traffic” thing.
  • If the University doesn’t keep the Muhammed Ali intro to the game and third quarter, I’m burning it all to the ground.
  • #ColeBlock.
  • Jeremy Smith is a bull. Doesn’t ever get stopped the first time.
  • Angry Bobby is my favorite Bobby.
  • How this was the 8th highest crowd in stadium history I’ll never understand. Looked pretty empty in some sections. 
  • Kyle Bolin had a beautiful pass down the right side to Devante Peete. 

All in all, this was a great game. Lamar looked like Lamar full bore with over 400 yards of offense and 4 TDs. Hikutini was fantastic with 118 yards and a touchdown and Jeremy Smith finished with 51 yards and 2 touchdowns. The defense was fantastic for the most part and we may have even found a (short range) kicker. 

Now we just need to pull for A&M, Houston, Oregon State and Penn State. No biggie. Virginia, you’re next.