After a lengthy closed session discussion at their meeting Wednesday afternoon, the University of Louisville board of trustees voted 10-3 to fire the school’s longtime athletics director Tom Jurich.
This move comes three weeks after news of the latest scandal involving the UofL men’s basketball team broke, as the program was swept up by a nationwide fraud and corruption sting into NCAA programs. Federal prosecutors in New York alleged on Sept. 26 that multiple UofL coaches were involved in a scheme to bribe two recruits into attending the school, which led to UofL’s interim President Greg Postel placing both Jurich and Hall of Fame basketball coach Rick Pitino on administrative leave the next day.
Jurich took over as the UofL athletics director in 1997 and led their sports teams through a renaissance, as their football and baseball programs joined the basketball program in belonging to the elite in the NCAA. Jurich was among the most celebrated athletic directors in the country when the basketball program was rocked by the escort scandal in 2015, leading to significant penalties handed down by the NCAA against the program, including the vacation of their 2013 championship victory.
Before the trustees voted to fire Jurich for cause, trustees Brian Cromer, Diane Medley and Ronald Wright spoke up in defense of the athletics director, thanking him for transforming the UofL athletics department and campus and urging their colleagues not to fire him. However, all of the other trustees voted to fire Jurich, including chairman J. David Grissom and Papa John’s founder John Schnatter — the latter of which had strongly criticized Jurich’s leadership earlier this year.
In a prepared statement after the meeting, Postel — who does not have a vote on the board — thanked Jurich “for his years of service and many contributions to the university,” but did not expand on the reasons for his firing. Postel also expressed confidence in interim AD Vince Tyra, saying he will “lead the department in a way that best serves the university, and our student athletes, both on and off the field.”
“To our student, faculty, staff and Cards fans, this is out opportunity to demonstrate the unity and integrity that define being a Louisville Cardinal,” said Postel. “When I walk around campus I’m always inspired when I see a student wearing one of our t-shirts that reads ‘Rise to the Occasion.’ Right now, we need to challenge ourselves to do just that.”
In his Sept. 27 letter to Jurich informing him that he was being placed on leave, Postel stated that the athletics director had negotiated UofL’s $160 million Adidas deal “without timely or appropriate consultation” with him or members of the UofL Athletic Association board. Postel also stated that Jurich’s contract requires him to properly supervise coaches and assure their adherence to law and NCAA policies, and that the negative publicity for UofL caused by this scandal was “unacceptable.”
Jurich’s attorneys countered in letters to Postel and the trustees that he had in fact negotiated the Adidas contract transparently with UofL leadership, and that Postel was showing a “lack of respect” for his client.
Pitino was officially fired for cause on Monday by a unanimous vote of the UofL Athletic Association board, despite the objections of Pitino’s attorneys, who argue that the coach was unaware of any bribe scheme and should not be held accountable for the actions of rogue assistant coaches. However, citing the previous escort scandal, Postel argued that Pitino allowed a “pattern and practice of inappropriate behavior,” and that parting ways with the coach was “in the best interest of the university.”
In a statement released after the trustees fired Jurich, his legal team at Frost Brown Todd said they were “disheartened” by the decision and “believe that their vote to terminate his contract was done in haste with inaccurate information that should have had no bearing on continuing his employment.”
“Tom Jurich maintained a professional athletic department that was the envy of universities across the country,” continued the statement of Jurich’s attorneys. “He has done nothing illegal, nor violated any NCAA rules. Tom has been a great steward for the University of Louisville Athletics brand.”
The statement added that the Jurich family “would like to thank the senior staff, coaching and department staff, student athletes, colleagues at UofL, donors, fans and everyone who live and reside in the city of Louisville for the opportunities and support they’ve provided throughout the years. With that said, Tom has instructed us to vigorously defend his rights and reputation under his long-standing contract with the University of Louisville.”
This story has been updated.