Louisville Magazine

NOV 2018

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 11.18 51 basketball moving forward, a spokesperson informed me that I would not be able to connect with Mack anytime soon. ey wouldn't supply answers to email questions either. At a meeting earlier this year to introduce Mack to former coaches and players living in the area, Crum got to talking with the former Xavier coach. "I told him — and it didn't matter what it was — I'd be happy to try to help him. He said he would appreciate that very much," Crum says. He remembers preparing for Xavier when U of L played them in 1993, during Mack's time there as a player. (Mack started his career at Evansville). "He was a pretty good player," Crum says, adding, "He's had a good experience (coaching at Xavier) and he's played a tough schedule." e Cardinals will meet some difficult opponents during pre-conference action, facing Tennessee and either Kansas or Marquette in an early-season tournament, then Michigan State, Seton Hall, Indiana and Kentucky — all by the end of December. Multiple matchups with nationally ranked Atlantic Coast Conference foes (Duke, North Carolina, etc.) will follow. Mack has embraced the challenge, and he's been quoted as saying the team will need to have its "big-boy pants on" to get through it. at Crum took on all comers and didn't obsess about rankings and tournament seeds placed him in stark contrast to his successor, Rick Pitino. at Pitino runs hot while Crum was nicknamed Cool Hand Luke — and that Pitino specialized in defense, while Crum was famous for calling brilliant scoring plays out of late- game timeouts — suggest an oil-water divide between the two. But Crum defends Pitino. On the sordid matter of a member of the basketball staff, identified as Andre McGee, ordering strippers for players and recruits in an on-campus dormitory (which certainly contributed to Pitino's firing last fall) Crum stands by his successor. "You'd have to talk to McGee and one of the assistants involved — and I know at least one of them had to be involved," Crum says. "Having said that, I don't really believe Rick knew. . .because he was such a stickler. ere's no way they could have gotten away with that for four years. If he said he didn't know, he didn't know. And I'm serious about that. Why would a guy jeopardize his $6-million-a-year job to let something like that go on? He wouldn't." Pitino ranked 15th on the all- time college coaching list with 770 career victories before the NCAA stripped U of L of 123 wins in February, following an FBI case involving several schools, and funds allegedly funneled by Adidas representatives to a U of L recruit's family with the cooperation of Cardinal coaches. (On the career list, Crum now has 28 more wins than Pitino.) Pitino invited Crum to practices, but he attended only occasionally. "I just felt I'd be better off away from it awhile and just go watch the games and root for the kids," Crum says. He credits Pitino with initiating the decision to name the floor at Freedom Hall (and later the Yum! Center) in his honor. U of L has played on Denny Crum Court since February 2007. I ask if that means former athletic director Tom Jurich wouldn't have pushed for the renaming. Crum responds with the first curse word I've heard from him. "Oh, hell no," he says. "Are you kidding?" Crum retains animosity toward Jurich for the way Crum's career ended, as do some who are close to him. Bitterness remains over the sequence of events that led to the retirement he announced in early March 2001, on his 64th birthday. "I didn't let him bully me like he did most people," Crum says of Jurich, who had become athletic director in 1997. "I didn't need to. I mean, I'd been there 30 years, and if I'd wanted to stay I could have. He didn't want me to because he wanted total control of everything, and I didn't want to work for somebody like that. So I retired." When Jurich returns my call seeking his version of events, he says he's "out west," no longer living in Louisville after being fired in October 2017 following the FBI findings, just two days after Pitino was terminated as coach. Jurich was athletic director at U of L for 20 years, the first four including seasons when Crum's teams sagged in performance. "I put no pressure on him (to retire)," Jurich says. "Nobody wants to be in a situation where you have to be in a position to make a change with a Hall of Fame coach." Saying it's the first time he's heard grievances about the naming of the court, Jurich adds, "Sure we considered it and of course we honored him. Rick (Pitino) was a big part of it. We all tried to respect him." Could it be that Crum is a relic of a more innocent time, an era when less money was at stake and deep tournament runs were more joy than expectation? Or maybe it was simply time for Crum to go. After making it to the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight in 1997, U of L won only 12 games the next year while losing 20, and won 12 and lost 19 in the 2000-2001 season — both disastrous. (e team won just 19 games during each of the intervening seasons, with first-round losses in the NCAA tourney.) Meanwhile, Crum's team got two years of probation in November 1996 for a player's improper use of a car and other minor violations; in September 1998, the team received three years probation and was banned for one year from postseason play, mainly for the improper use of an assistant coach's credit card by a player's father. e postseason ban was revoked before season's end, but the team never took flight. I dial up Bill Olsen, who was U of L's athletic director from 1980 to '97 and, before that, an assistant to Crum. I ask him about Crum's final year. Olsen recalls that Crum did not share his thoughts at the time with many others. "I think the way it was handled was very disappointing to him probably, even though he never expressed it to me," Olsen says. "at's Denny. He's a very positive person." Crum became engaged to Susan Sweeney Crum, his third wife, the summer before his final season. ey married in 2001. She says that when he found out about the behind-the-scenes discussions to remove him from his U of L job, it was "hard on him." But he chose not to make a public issue of the maneuvers, she says, because he couldn't fathom keeping the coaching position if he wasn't supported at U of L. After spending three decades building the program, he didn't want to harm it. "Denny wasn't going to make waves," she says. Some things still rankle Sweeney Crum, who retired this year from WFPL after a career in TV and radio broadcasting. "I think he was treated poorly for 16 years," she says. Sweeney Crum mentions times when she and her husband traveled with the team to away games. On occasion, she says they would be given tickets in the upper arena, far from the seats handed to board members and certain donors. Fans came up to them, surprised the Hall of Fame coach was seated so far from the action. "It hurt him," Sweeney Crum says. "I could tell. It hurt him." Jurich bristles at the notion that he would assign lesser seats to the former coach, telling me he had nothing to do

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