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December 12, 2012
Tom Jurich has a saying about his University of Louisville athletic department being "Little Brother," a take off on former Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton's 1986 moniker for the Cardinals.
Jurich likes to say, "I am fine with being called Little Brother... as long as Little Brother is 6-4, 285."
He may have to change his favored description because under Jurich's highly successful 15-year reign UofL's sports teams appear to be well on their way to resembling more of a "Big Brother," if not an outright neighborhood bully.
With the move to the Atlantic Coast Conference, followed closely by football coach Charlie Strong's decision to turn down a lucrative offer from Tennessee to remain at UofL, the Cardinals are positioned to take giant strides on the football field, where most of the money and prestige in Division I college athletics reside, as well as continuing to progress in other sports.
Jurich, whose calling cards are ambition, confidence and persuaviness, said Strong's choosing to stay at Louisville proves that the school's football program is no longer a steppingstone -- as signified by the exits of John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino in the past decade -- but a "destination."
Also never one to back off from hyperbole, Jurich said the Cards are now on "a rocket-ship pace."
"I have unbelievable respect for the SEC, but they're humans just like we are," Jurich said. "They're not going to be pouring any more money into their programs than I'm pouring into this one. I look at the schools we're going to be competing with in the ACC and I look at the upper echelon of the SEC, and they're very comparable.
"I just want everybody to know that I'm not ready to say we're a second-place program or second-tier. I think we're first-tier, and I will truly debate anybody that this is a top-10 program in the country.
"We're committed, but we've always been committed. I've been committed since Day One here. I think everybody looks at us as a longshot, (but) I truly believe now, as of (the ACC's offer of membership), we're a top-10 job in the country. Somebody debate that with me, please, but I'll debate that until I drop dead. I think it's a top-10 job in football. And as we move on to the ACC and all the things they provide for us, I think you'll see a lot of people say that."
Jurich would certainly get his wished-for debate from any number of sources, considering that UofL doesn't have the tradition, fan support, stadium seating capacity, reputation or championship trophies of numerous schools. After all, the Cards will be making only their second appearance in a BCS bowl when they take on Florida in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
After Jurich made his statement, he was handed a list by a reporter listing the scribe's opinion of the top 10. They were Alabama, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and USC, pretty upscale company.
Jurich looked at the list and said, "I wouldn't go to any of them."
Whether Jurich could win such a debate or not, there's no doubt that Strong's refusal to leave for what most would perceive as greener coaching pastures gave a significant bump to UofL's credibility, a much-needed lift because the Cards' tenure in the much-maligned Big East was getting them nowhere in terms of national respect.
"We're going to be a big-time football program," Jurich said. "We strive for that. We're going to be until the day I die."
According to U.S. Department of Education figures, Jurich's rocket ship is definitely a high-powered machine.
Ranked 44th nationally with $52.2 million in total athletic revenue in 2007-08, UofL soared to 17th at $87.8 million during the 2011-12 academic year.