LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The University of Louisville Athletic Department can be argued to be one of the strongest in the nation from top to bottom.
Unlike some schools that boast one or two elite programs, the Cardinals can speak to consistent excellence in each of the school's 23 sports. Just last year, Louisville teams combined to win a program-best 10 conference titles.
While he's quick to direct the credit to the coaches and student-athletes, that success has to be attributed in large part to Vice President and Director of Athletics Tom Jurich, who celebrated the 15th anniversary of his appointment to that role on Monday.
Since arriving in the Derby City in 1997, Jurich's passion and vision has led the Cardinals to unprecedented development and accomplishment, and his efforts led to national acclaim in 2007, as he was named Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal/Sports Business Daily Athletic Director of the Year.
Jurich continues to ensure the Cardinals are on the cutting edge nationally in athletics and, while doing so, deflects the praise and responsibility of Louisville's success to those working with him.
Football head coach Charlie Strong, whose team currently is one of 11 undefeated in Division I at 7-0, spoke earlier today about the admiration he has for Jurich and echoed the sentiments that Jurich never wants the spotlight.
"He is a special athletic director because he takes into account the whole athletic department," Strong said. "It's not about football. It's not about basketball. It's about all the other sports also, male and female. He's one of those athletic directors that's going to give you everything you want from every sport. Look down Cardinal Row, and look at the facilities we have right now. I guarantee you before he came here - I guarantee people said it can't be done. And look what has been done here and what he's done. It's just a legacy for himself. And he wants no credit for it. He doesn't even want to talk about it."
To list Jurich's accomplishments since taking the reins of the program would take quite some time, but some of the more notable ones include engineering the Cardinals' move to the BIG EAST, attracting men's basketball head coach Rick Pitino to restore the program among the nation's elite, rapidly rebuilding the football program, placing an emphasis on academics in which success has risen dramatically under his watch, and addressing multiple facility needs that continue to catch eyes of not only fans, but other programs around the country.
Jurich, signed through 2023, also placed a strong emphasis on gender equity, community involvement and was inducted into the state's athletic hall of fame in 2006.
Pitino, whose team is coming off a historic NCAA Final Four run, stopped into the press conference and spoke about the Cardinals' leader.
"I just want to congratulate Tom on his 15 years," Pitino said. "It's not that it's the length of time; it's what has been accomplished in 15 years. Back a long time ago, when I used to drive by here, I actually never knew the University of Louisville was here off the highway because we always played at Freedom Hall. From that point in time, the early 1990s, to what you see is astonishing. More astonishing than you can even imagine is, we're not Princeton or Harvard with an endowment; or boosters in this town that just immediately can write a check.
"If you look at an athletic director, he wears 5-6 different hats: he's a fundraiser; he's a builder; he hires coaches; he keeps everybody compliant; he builds morale through the city; and his family is a great example of what family is all about. ... He has to go out into the community and grab the Owsley Frazier's of the world and people who did not graduate from Louisville and convert them into fans."
Although Jurich's honors speak to his savvy and intelligence as a leader, the one trait that chiefly exudes from the Northern Arizona graduate is his high energy and passion that he carries day by day. That same passion is what has driven Jurich to transform Louisville into a sports haven and attractive environment for those around the country.
"I love it here," Jurich said. "I really love it here. I love the people I work with. Kenny (Klein) doesn't work with me; he's a great buddy. Kevin Miller doesn't work with me. He's a great buddy. I can go all the way down the line. They don't work with me, they're great buddies. That's what I think we've been able to do. ... Terrilynn is very happy here. All four children - we have another semester to go - but it looks like all four are going to be graduates of the University of Louisville. If they're happy, why would I screw that up?"
Prior to reaching Louisville, the proud husband and father of four fashioned the same success in stints at Colorado State and Northern Arizona.
The California native started his athletic tenure on the field as one of the finest football players in Northern Arizona history. A punter, placekicker and backup quarterback for the Lumberjacks, he earned first-team Kodak All-America honors in 1977 -- the first collegiate kicker to make the Kodak honor list -- and also received All-America acclaim from The Sporting News. He is the only kicker in Big Sky Conference history to be named the league's offensive player of the year (1977).