Kenny Klein is retiring.
Subconsciously, I always knew this day was coming at some point, and that point was probably right around the corner. Consciously, I don’t think I ever let myself accept that fact. And now here we are.
After 39 years at U of L, Klein is calling it a career in June. Thankfully, he plans on remaining around the program in a limited role to help out with the start of the Kenny Payne era.
Still, this is a massive changing of the guard for Cardinal athletics.
Klein’s career at U of L predates just about everyone else who occupies an office on Floyd Street. He graduated from Murray State in 1981 with a degree in journalism, and then just two years later accepted the Sports Information Director position at Louisville. Just 23-years-old, Klein was the youngest SID at an NCAA Division I football institution.
“I felt incredibly prepared,” Klein told The Courier-Journal in 2014. “The man I’d worked under at Austin Peay and Murray State, Doug Vance, is now the executive director for the College Sports Information Directors of America. I learned under a great person. But it was a bit overwhelming, because really it was myself, one student assistant and Kathy Tronzo, who’s my assistant to this day.
“My first year at Louisville I was so excited, because Street and Smith’s college yearbook sent out a letter asking for material and I sent them some pictures of Milt Wagner and said ‘Hey, you might consider these for your cover.’ And it was the cover. I was so thrilled. Man, I was so pumped to see that.”
Since that year, Klein has been a fixture at the center of U of L athletics. In addition to serving as Louisville’s SID, Klein currently holds the title of Senior Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations. His sterling reputation has also rewarded him with the opportunity to coordinate the computerized statistics operation at every NCAA Final Four since 1987.
Rick Pitino summed up the special relationship between Klein and the University of Louisville this way in 2015:
“All you have to do if you want to know about how special this place is, is to look at Kenny Klein. Kenny is the very best at what he does, and he could have taken any number of jobs over the years, probably could have wound up being an athletic director somewhere. Instead he chose to stay here because he sees, just like I do, how special a place this is to work.”
Klein was inducted into the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame in 2015, and into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017.
If you look anywhere on social media or at any Louisville-related website, you’re certain to be greeted with dozens of people sharing their Kenny Klein stories or offering Klein their well-wishes. This is not a normal thing for a sports information director, which makes sense because Kenny Klein is not a normal sports information director.
It’s hard for me to envision U of L athletics without Kenny because I have, quite literally, never known U of L athletics without Kenny. I would assume the same can be said for Cardinal fans whose time on this planet predates Klein’s arrival on Floyd Street. I suppose we’d all better start practicing.
As much as I would have selfishly preferred Kenny to remain at U of L for as long as his life would allow, I think we can all agree the man has earned a more free, less stressful adventure to embark on. His gain is our loss, because Kenny Klein is the best, now and forever.