LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - In more than 50 years of writing about University of Louisville sports, I’ve never been as disgusted as I was but what happened in the Cardinal camp before and during the blowout loss to Kentucky Saturday night in Cardinal Stadium.
To nobody’s surprise, the Cards had little offense and no defense. But as they also showed a national audience watching ESPN2 they have no discipline and no class. The final score – UK 56, UofL 10 – was the least of the embarrassments.
Begin with the four players dismissed on game day for unspecified violations of team rules. What’s the deal with that? What did they do to betray their teammates and fans before the rivalry game, the Cards’ last hope for even a modicum of respectability?
Then consider all the stupid penalties, some of which were cheap shots and flagrant fouls. The officials kicked two Cards out of the game for their unsportsmanlike play, and interim coach Lorenzo Ward tried unsuccessfully to send senior tight end Mickey Crum to the locker room.
That was the most embarrassing incident of all.
Tagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Crum came to the sidelines and got into a shouting match with Ward, who ordered him to the locker room. Crum refused to go. Even after his helmet was taken from him, he refused to go. And doggone if he didn’t somehow get back in the game, much to the surprise of the ESPN announcers.
So there it was, the program’s dirty linen aired in public. It was a clue to what plagued this team for 28 games, going back to the Houston trip in the next-to-last game of the 2016 season. But there has to be more, and I think the public has the right to know.
This is one of those mysteries where we all know the culprit going in. All roads trace to former head coach Bobby Petrino, who was fired when the atrocious season reached 2-8.
But what exactly did Petrino do – or not do – that would cause a program to plummet from 9-1 and playoff consideration at the end of 2016 to its current humiliating state?
Did he recruit bad players? Hire bad assistants? Do something on or off the field that cause the coaches and players to disrespect him? When, exactly, did he lose control of his team? Was his $14 million buyout a factor in the desultory way he coached this season? All of the above? Something else?
Now that he’s gone, I’m sure a lot of UofL fans would just like to chalk the season up to an aberration, bury it deep in the memory bank and look forward to welcoming a new head coach and brighter days. Of course, if recruits keep decommitting (the Cards are down to nine), those brighter days might be a long way off.
But I want some answers for this inexcusable slide into the land of ugly programs. I want the university – or somebody – to conduct an investigation, and I will accept the results because I know Athletics Director Vince Tyra is too honorable to be involved in a cover-up.
I am reluctant to tar everybody in the program with the same brush. I’m sure there were coaches and players who tried to do the right thing behind the scenes. But to be completely fair to them, we need to know who, other than Petrino, deserves the blame for the lack of discipline and character that was on full display Saturday night.
I’m sure the new coach will want answers, too. He needs to know exactly what he’s walking into and what he must clean up. If Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, whose family has invested much into UofL football, doesn’t think the time is right and stays put, Tyra must identify and hire a coach who is very much like him, especially in the integrity department.
In the 28 games between Houston in 2016 and UK Saturday night, the Cards were 10-18. And eight of those victories came in the 2017 season when, despite having reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson at quarterbacks, the Cards were so-so at best.
So what happened? I’m don’t buy the “just one of those things” excuse. Something was terribly, terribly wrong inside this team where the players simply quit on everybody, including themselves.
The ugliness of Saturday night, tacked on to all the national headlines about the basketball scandals, has damaged the university’s reputation immeasurably. Once lost, your good name is hard to recover.
This UofL head coaching job can again be a good one. For now, though, the university must identify and hire the football equivalent of basketball coach Chris Mack. Getting back on a winning track is important, but not as important as doing things the right and honorable way..
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter from Louisville who contributes regular columns to WAVE3.com.