Since he brought Rick Pitino here in 2001, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich has seen three different football coaches leave the Derby City for what they hoped would be greener pastures.
In the weeks, or sometimes months, leading up to each departure, Jurich has found himself fielding informal questions from friends, colleagues and associates about the growing buzz of an exodus. In all of these instances, his stance has been something resembling the following.
"I'm not going to beg (insert football coach's name here) to stay," Jurich will say. "We have the best college basketball coach in the world here. If this place is good enough for him, then why shouldn't it be good enough for (insert football coach's name here)? If he wants to go, that's on him, but I'm definitely not going to beg him to stay. I shouldn't need to."
For all the triumphs that Jurich has enjoyed during his tenure at Louisville, there still might not be a bigger one than the hiring (and sustained retention) of Pitino. There certainly hasn't been a more important one.
Jurich had barely been at Louisville three full years before recognizing that a chapter of the men's basketball program needed to be brought to an end. Unfortunately for him, the chapter just so happened to be the most entertaining and eventful of all those in the basketball program's lengthy story.
On the same day that Denny Crum announced his retirement after 30 years of serving as UofL's men's basketball coach, Jurich made a statement that sent a matching, if not larger, ripple through the Louisville sports world.
"What I've tried to focus on is who would be the best fit and who would do the best job and who I would enjoy working with," Jurich said when talking about his quest to replace Crum. "I feel, at this point, coach Pitino is really who I want to focus on."
To this day, Jurich maintains that there was no deal done with Pitino at the time he made that statement. That being the case, this was a still-green athletic director who had just made a move that was wildly unpopular with a segment of the fan base that was still getting to know him, stating definitively explicitly that he had his sights set on the biggest fish in the coaching pond at that time. It's a move that I'm not sure any athletic director, then or now, not names Tom Jurich could pull off successfully.
Pitino doing the un-thinkable and signing with Louisville gave Jurich the cachet needed to start making the moves that would lay the foundation for the success UofL would enjoy over the course of the next 15 years. It also spawned a core of trust that has remained, and still remains, at the center of one of the most important relationships in the history of Cardinal athletics.
That core of trust has been tested a number of times since 2001, but never more so than in the last six months. Even during the darkest and most unpredictable of times, though, it has endured.
"We went through a tough year, and Tom stood by me 100 percent," Pitino said in a radio interview on 93.9 The Ville. "I didn't have to prove to him that I didn't know anything. He knew right away that I didn't know anything. He knows what I believe in as far as rules are concerned. His support made me not even think for one second about packing it in, it made me just dig in and focus on doing the right things to get our program through this."
The two biggest names associated with Louisville athletics have now co-existed in the Derby City for the better part of two decades, and there's no indication that either is headed anywhere else any time soon. Appropriately enough, the current contracts for both men run out in the same year: 2026.
"Tom Jurich is the best AD in the business," Pitino said. "He could tell me, 'I know it's dirty, I know it's murky, but you're going to have to swim across the Ohio River. Even though you're not a great swimmer.' I'd say let me put a wetsuit on at least, and there I'd go. Obviously, Tom and I, we'll probably go out together some time in the future."
A version of this column appears in the current issue of The Voice-Tribune