There's no room for error this time around. Not with 13,000 more seats to sell in expanded Papa John's Cardinal Stadium next season. Jurich needs to find a winner with his next hire. With the exception of Kragthorpe, Jurich's track-record indicates he'll do just that.
There's no sense in underestimating the importance of Jurich's decision. It is one of the most critical hires in UofL football history with the future of the program hanging in the balance. That may sound overly dramatic but with the financial investments made into the football program over the last ten years, the importance of this decision can't be undervalued.
In many ways, this is Tom Jurich's defining moment. The decision that Jurich makes will have enormous impact not only on the Louisville football program but also, to some degree, Jurich's ultimate legacy at UofL.
That's why I think the choice will be someone with a bona-fide track record of success on the field, on the recruiting front, and in fan relations. Whoever replaces Kragthorpe faces a major rebuilding job because there's been a significant talent drain the past three seasons and the university administration needs to re-connect with a fractured fan base.
The fundamental pieces are in place for success at Louisville. The facilities are top notch, support from the fans and administration is strong and the Big East provides a workable path to the BCS. And as Bobby Petrino and Rich Rodriquez nearly proved, if you go undefeated in the Big East you've got a great chance to play for the national championship.
No pressure, huh?
Whoever Jurich picks, and it appears Charlie Strong is going to be Louisville's next coach, must:
Restore Discipline: This program has had a serious lack of discipline the past three years and it shows on the field with repeated mistakes, turnovers and costly penalties. Louisville needs a hard-driving coach who demands excellence from his players and staff each and every day, on or off the field.
Instill Toughness: Again, this program needs lots of toughness. It's apparent this winning ingredient has been lacking in the football program for three years and is evident when considering some of the second half Big East scores this season. Howard Schnellenberger used to say you've got to be tough to win in the fourth quarter. Louisville didn't win many games in the fourth quarter the last three seasons.
Coach with Passion: Quite simply, Louisville needs a guy who eats, sleeps and breathes football and absolutely despises losing football games. That kind of passion manifests itself in a work ethic second to none and Louisville needs a guy who is driven 24-7 to build a championship contender for the Cardinals.
Recruit, particularly in the south: The talent-level at UofL is way down compared to where it was under the the two prior head coaches. Whoever comes in has to be able to attract top-notch talent and get it done on the recruiting trail. He'll have immediate playing time to offer and great facilities and recent tradition to sell. Someone who can make that recruiting pitch successfully, especially in the south, should have success at UofL.
I believe Strong, who has waited patiently for his chance to be a BCS-level head coach, meets all four requirements.
If you watch his Florida defense play against Alabama in the SEC championship this Saturday, you'll see a tough, physical and disciplined unit that plays with passion and executes Strong's game-plan. That's clearly a positive reflection on their coach. And there's no question Strong can recruit, particularly in areas that are vital to Louisville's success, namely in Florida.
I don't think Jurich has to find someone who wants to stay here forever, which seemed his top priority when hiring Kragthorpe. Miami proved in the 1980's and 1990's that you can have sustained success with outstanding, hungry coaches who move on every four or five years. Finding a quality coach, regardless of his professional aspirations, should be the top priority. And Strong, who has won two BCS national championship rings as Florida's defensive coordinator, definitely qualifies as a "quality coach."
It's also important the new coach be adept in his dealings with fans. Kragthorpe struggled in this regard with his veil of secrecy surrounding the program. If the new coach is wise, he'd re-open spring – and fall - practice, provide insight into player development, depth chart issues and injury-related news, and get out in the community and reconnect with UofL fans. That would buy him time and support as he rebuilds the program. By all indications, Strong is very popular with Gator fans.
And finally, the new coach must focus attention on the finer details in practice and strive for perfection in the team's execution. If the new coach can get the Cardinals to eliminate the mistakes that plagued them for three years under Kragthorpe UofL's turnaround could happen much quicker than many believe possible. You don't win two national titles without heavy emphasis on the game's fundamentals and finer points. Don't forget, Strong has those two rings.
Louisville fans will need to exercise patience because the new coach is faced with a major rebuild. Before Louisville competes for the Big East title again, talent must be upgraded, depth built back up and the players must relearn what it takes to win consistently.
It will happen, but it won't happen over night.