Coaching rumors reach new level

Though the rumor mill slowed down after Louisville's 25-23 win over Southern Miss last week, speculation about Steve Kragthorpe's status is back on the front burner as UofL prepares for Saturday's game at Connecticut.

So you thought the rumors and speculation about Steve Kragthorpe's job security would subside after Louisville's 25-23 win over Southern Miss last weekend?

Well, they did – for a few days.

Then, inevitably, speculation renewed yesterday as a major national media outlet linked Louisville and - say it ain't so – Jon Guden.

NFL Network 'insider' Michael Lombardi dropped a scud missile-sized bombshell Wednesday on the NFL Network's 'Around the League' program that has reverberated around the 'Ville all day. If you missed what Lombardi said you've either been out of town, without internet access or both.

Here's what Lombardi said to touch-off a furor locally:

"Sources have told me from the University of Louisville that [Gruden] will be their No. 1 choice to be their head coach," Lombardi said. "Their current head coach Steve Kragthorpe is 13-16 in his tenure since taking over for Bobby Petrino at Louisville.......They almost fired Kragthorpe last year. He would not accept the buy-out. This year, he's 2-3..can't win the Big East. They're going to look down to Tampa and put together a package and make it very attractive."

"Louisville has great expectations for their football team. They think they can win a national championship. And Jon Gruden, whose brother, Jay, was a four-year starter there, they have interest. He's the No. 1 guy on their list."

Three things stand out from Lombardi's statements: 1. He says nothing of Gruden's interest in Louisville, only that a source from the University of Louisville indicated that the former Super Bowl champion coach is the Cardinals No. 1 choice to replace Steve Kragthorpe. 2. His claim of a rejected buy-out last season. 3. That Louisville already has a list of replacements for Kragthorpe – and Gruden tops that list.

Michael Lombardi's report has been the talk of the town.
Those are three bombshell statements, none of which were officially denied or commented on Thursday by UofL officials.

Now, this isn't some message board user hiding behind a screen name making these statements. (Not that there's anything wrong with that). This is Michael Lombardi, a veteran, former NFL executive with Oakland, San Francisco, Denver, Philadelphia and Cleveland and a respected 'insider' at the NFL Network. Yes, that's the official network of the National Football League.

Interestingly, Gruden was asked about Lombardi's statement's Thursday morning on ESPN's Mike and Mike program and gave the politically correct response that he wouldn't comment on a job with a coach currently in place. Smart move, though clearly not a denial of Lombardi's report.

Clearly there could be several NFL head coaching openings this year, including the Washington Redskins. Besides Gruden, Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren, both Super Bowl champion coaches, will also be hot commodities. So why would Gruden be interested in a possible job opening at Louisville, considering there may be several NFL openings?

"The college jobs are interesting because they open up before the NFL ones," Lombardi said. "Jon Gruden's certainly got to look at where he is in the pecking order as it relates to those two coaches and maybe take a bird in the hand instead of two in a bush."

And keep this in mind: Lombardi's statements didn't happen in a vacuum. It's been two weeks, at least, of nearly non-stop speculation about Steve Kragthorpe and possible replacements. Just for the record, the chronological order of events in this saga looks like this:

Rumors and speculation about Kragthorpe's future at UofL erupt to a fever pitch last week after Louisville's loss to Pitt, including a blog report that Kragthorpe had been notified by UofL that he wouldn't be retained.

Kenny Klein, UofL's sports information director issued a specific denial that Tom Jurich and Kragthorpe didn't meet last Monday, as the blog report indicated. He also denied a rumored press conference to announce a resignation from the football coach.

In the midst of this fire storm, Tom Jurich left town, presumably for Florida, missing the UofL tip-off lunch last Thursday (I will leave it to your imagination what he was up to).

Then yesterday, Michael Lombardi of the NFL Network reported that Jon Gruden is Louisville's No. 1 candidate as Steve Kragthorpe's replacement. He cites a source at the University of Louisville.

Next Jon Gruden, when asked about the report on ESPN's Mike and Mike program, doesn't offer any denial of the story, saying only the appropriate "I don't comment on job's that aren't vacant......

Finally, no official denial of the story from University of Louisville officials.

Hey, maybe there's nothing to the rumors and speculation of the past two weeks and Michael Lombari's story. Then again, I've never seen smoke where there wasn't a fire. The watch continues........

Not forgotten in the midst of this unfolding story: Louisville, 2-3, will travel to Connecticut Saturday to face the Huskies. Not only will Steve Kragthorpe be looking for his first win over Connecticut, he'll also be searching for his first Big East win since knocking off South Florida last October. The Cardinals have lost their last six Big East games, including a 35-10 defeat at home against Pittsburgh two weeks ago.

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