LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - As someone who wrote and said I believed Jeff Brohm was riding his white horse home to save University of Louisville football, I must now confess that I heard a little voice saying, "You're letting your heart trump your head again, dummy. You'll never learn, will you?"
Now I think that Brohm’s decision to remain at Purdue only proves that some UofL fans are in deep denial about the damage that Bobby Petrino, fired in disgrace when the season hit the 2-8 mark, did to the program he took to new levels of accomplishment in his first stint here.
Some of the pundits keep saying the final 2-10 record was UofL’s worst season since 1992 or somewhere back there. But it’s worse than that. Much worse. This was the worst Cardinal football team ever. The last five opponents scored 50 or more against UofL, something that’s never happened in the history of major-college football.
The players grew increasingly surly and undisciplined, as they proved in a final display of classlessness against Kentucky. Sensing the cancer within the team, if not quite seeing it, recruits bailed out in droves, leaving the team with nine and counting for next year.
So the money being more or less the same, as I believe it was, why would even Jeff Brohm, who loves his hometown and alma mater, walk away from a Purdue program that looks to be on the cusp of a spot in the Big Ten title game, if not a place in the College Football Playoff?
It was too much to ask, as I now realize, but UofL athletics director Vince Tyra asked anyway. Heck, I’m sure he pleaded because he knew, more than anyone, that Jeff Brohm was the only coach who could ignite the fan base immediately. And, after all, Tyra needs to fill as many of the 61,000 seats in Cardinal Stadium as often as possible.
But Brohm did what he thought was best for his family and career, and who can blame him for that? I’ve already heard about one fan who does. He burned the No. 11 jersey that Brohm wore during his stellar career at UofL. But rather than being any kind of indictment against Jeff, it only shows how toxic the atmosphere has become around Cardinal football.
I wish the best for Jeff and his entire family. UofL owes them a lot, and they don’t owe UofL any more than the vast amount of blood and sweat they already have invested in the program. Jeff’s dad Oscar was a UofL quarterback in the late 1960s. All three of his sons — Brian and Greg, in addition to Jeff — played for the Cards with great distinction.
They held their heads high even though they were treated shabbily under the administration of former athletics director Tom Jurich, whose hand-picked coach, Steve Kragthorpe, hired Jeff to be his offensive coordinator. But when things went sour for Kragthorpe, he made Jeff his scapegoat and demoted him, an embarrassment that led Jeff to join Howard Schnellenberger, his coach at UofL, as offensive coordinator at Florida Atlantic.
Jurich told his inner circle that the Brohms had conspired to undermine Kragthorpe so Jeff could get the job, even though there was never any evidence of that. It created a schism in the fan base that never should have happened.
Staying at Purdue certainly has its challenges. Next season, a 6-6 record will be considered a disappointment. Once you feed the beast, it wants more. And more. And more.
Still, the enthusiasm at Purdue stands in stark contrast to the ugliness at UofL. Seldom, if ever, has a program fallen so far, so fast. Nobody can say what happened with any degree of certainty. It can only be hoped that UofL gets to the truth before it pays Petrino a cent of his $14 million buyout for being fired without cause.
Without cause? Really? Is there no penalty for absolutely ruining a football program at a time when the university is still recovering from a series of basketball and financial scandals? Jurich gave Petrino a sweetheart deal at a time when he didn't deserve it and didn't have the leverage to demand it.
The next coach must be good at the Xs and Os, certainly. He must be a good recruiter. Perhaps most importantly, he must be a man who is clean and respected. I believe Tyra will find and hire the best person available, and this time I don’t hear any tiny voices whispering in the background. He won’t generate the initial excitement Brohm would have, but — like new basketball coach Chris Mack — he must be self-confident enough to work his way through that.
As a final note to Jeff and his family, I wish them all the best of luck and great success. I thank them for their contributions to UofL football for so many years. They are good people, and nothing about Jeff’s decision changes that.
But I hope they also forgive me for saying that I’m looking forward to the day when the new UofL coach’s team will face Brohm’s Purdue team in a bowl game and sends it back to West Lafayette in a very bad mood.
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter who contributes regular columns to WAVE3.com.