UL’s Kragthorpe is on the hot seat

By Darrell Laurant  |   Monday, June 01, 2009  |  Comments( 1 )

Louisville Cardinals
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The latest photos of University of Louisville football coach Steve Kragthorpe have him wearing a beard. Maybe that's in hopes no one will recognize him.

For despite the relentlessly upbeat patter from both the coach and UL athletic director Tom ("The more I see of Steve, the more impressed I am") Jurich, there's no question that Kragthorpe enters 2009 with a large target on his back. The Web site Bleacher Report lists him as the second-likeliest Division I-A coach to get fired, right behind Notre Dame's Charlie Weis.

Part of Kragthorpe's problem is that he broke a hallowed rule of coaching ascension -- never take over a team that's supposed to be good. After resuscitating a Tulsa program that was gasping for breath, going 8-5 in his first season, Kragthorpe jumped up to a Louisville squad ranked No. 5 in the 2007 preseason by Sports Illustrated and returning 18 starters. The Cardinals promptly finished 6-6, then 5-7 in 2008.

Having been given an ever-so-brief taste of life at the top, the UL fans can no longer tolerate mediocrity, and the Internet site "Fire Kragthorpe Now" has become a lightning rod for dissatisfaction.

That anger gained momentum at the end of 2008, when the Cardinals dropped five straight, triggered by their second straight loss to a bad Syracuse team. In the finale, UL wound up on the very short end of a 63-14 rout against Rutgers.

All of this served to tarnish a commendable earlier effort by the defense, but that's now a moot point -- coordinator Ron English left to take the head coaching job at Eastern Michigan (a team in decline).

If nothing else, Kragthorpe has taken steps to make this team his own, starting with the demotion of offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm, a link to the brief good old days and older brother of former star Cardinal QB Brian Brohm. Kragthorpe will be running the offense himself in 2009, with many of his own recruits. Jeff Brohm is now an assistant at Florida Atlantic.

Unfortunately, September does not look kind to Louisville this time around. After a home opener with Indiana State, the Cardinals have to play Kentucky, Utah and Pitt the next three weeks.

Despite the graduation of Hunter Cantwell (who proved something of a disappointment) and the defection of Matt Simms, Kragthorpe does have a quarterback. In fact, he has four of them -- redshirt freshman Zach Stoudt, Tyler Wolfe, Adam Froman and North Carolina State transfer Justin Burke, and none of them created any separation with his position rivals in spring practice. Although depth is nice, the last thing Kragthorpe needs is a quarterback controversy.

Elusive running back Victor Anderson was one of the best freshman in the country last season, but the offensive line lost pro draftees Eric Wood and George Bussey.

Meanwhile, Brent Guy will take over for English as the defensive coordinator. He has impressive credentials for that job, including a once-in-a-lifetime season with Arizona State (2002) in which his Sun Devil defense notched 123 tackles for loss, 52 sacks and 40 turnovers (having Terrell Suggs didn't hurt). Yet Guy came to Louisville from 3-9 and 2-10 seasons as head coach at Utah State.

So now Kragthorpe has the situation in which he has excelled in the past -- turning around an underachieving program. Too bad it's a situation of his own creation.
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