The sign was propped up next to the rostrum. Its message was unmistakable.
Beneath a heading for the University of Louisville Athletic Association’s 2017-18 goals and a long red line was the single aim that matters above all else at the scandal-plagued school:
“1. To maintain the highest level of ethics throughout the University’s athletic program.”
There was no No. 2. There was no need for a No. 2. Think of U of L’s present predicament along the lines of “Fight Club,” where the second rule simply echoes the first for the sake of emphasis. Unless and until integrity can be achieved throughout the school’s sports programs, its competitive and commercial successes will be unable to overcome the damage that has been done to the university’s brand.
Vince Tyra was introduced as U of L’s acting athletic director Tuesday afternoon with that No. 1 goal set up as stage decoration. He described Cardinal athletics as a “flat tire,” then promised in the next breath to “pump it back up.” If his administration should last a month or 10 years, Tyra has already demonstrated a firm and unflinching grasp of the task in front of him.
The road is long (with many a winding turn), but here was an encouraging start. Here was new leadership untainted by Katina Powell and Andre McGee and untouched by the FBI’s investigation into the influence of shoe company bribes on college basketball recruiting. Here was the son of U of L’s first basketball all-american, Charlie Tyra, answering the call to restore confidence and stability to the most public part of the most important institution in his hometown.
Can I get an “Amen?”
That Tyra’s title implies a temporary appointment should not be interpreted to mean he is simply a seat-filler until a permanent athletic director can be found. Nor does Tyra’s long-running friendship with Tom Jurich signal that he is only a proxy in place until Jurich can complete a Napoleonic comeback.
“I’m not going to be a lame duck,” Tyra promised.
The U of L administration’s actions in recent days has created some doubt along those lines, leaving the impression of indecision when its mood appears to be more resolute.
Though both Jurich and basketball coach Rick Pitino were placed on administrative leave Wednesday morning, the ULAA and Board of Trustees have followed separate timetables in firing them. That the ULAA board has authorized Pitino’s dismissal while the Board of Trustees has left Jurich’s status unclarified has caused the AD’s many backers to believe he may yet be restored to power.
Early Tuesday, two of the university’s most well-connected insiders assessed Jurich’s chances of retaining his job as better than 50 percent. As the day proceeded, however, indications were that the Board of Trustees, which had voted unanimously to suspend Jurich, was still solidly behind its hard-line chairman, J. David Grissom, and that efforts to save Jurich’s job are probably doomed.
(Efforts to reach influential donor Jim Patterson Tuesday were unsuccessful, but entertaining. A phone message left for a James Patterson in Palm Beach prompted a return call from James Patterson, the best-selling novelist, who mentioned Pitino by name. Never has a wrong number felt so right.)
Vince Tyra made no obvious mistakes during his introductory news conference and provided several strong selling points. This is the same fellow who has instituted numerous and needed reforms as chair of the U of L Foundation’s Finance Committee following its scandalous forensic audit. This is an acting athletic director who acts the part of a permanent solution.
“I’m a straightforward guy,” Tyra said. “I don’t want to brag on integrity, but I’m not interested in crossing any lines.”
If Tyra can achieve stated goal No. 1, everything else should fall into place.
Tim Sullivan can be reached at (502) 582-4650, firstname.lastname@example.org or @TimSullivan714 on Twitter.