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Louisville, Ky. » Louisville fired football coach Steve Kragthorpe after finishing the year at 4-8, the school's worst season in more than a decade.
Athletic director Tom Jurich met with Kragthorpe, brother of Salt Lake Tribune sports columnist Kurt Kragthorpe, Saturday morning, hours after the Cardinals finished the season with a 34-14 loss to Rutgers.
"I felt we needed to go in another direction and get this program back on the track," Jurich said Saturday afternoon.
Kragthorpe, who spent much of his childhood in Utah, went 15-21 in three seasons after replacing Bobby Petrino in January 2007. He had two years remaining on a contract that paid him about $1.1 annually. Jurich said Kragthorpe will receive a $2.2 million buyout.
"I was hoping we'd get over the hump this year," Jurich said. "I thought we could get through the year and really build some momentum and obviously that didn't happen."
Jurich said a national search would begin immediately. The list of candidates could include Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong and former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer.
Head coaching experience would not be a priority in finding Kragthorpe's replacement, Jurich said. He added he's looking for someone who can bring energy back to a program that was an emerging national power when Kragthorpe took over for Petrino fresh off a season in which the Cardinals went 12-1 and won the Big East title and the Orange Bowl.
"I want to get a great leader of men and somebody that will take us to the heights we want to be at," Jurich said.
Kragthorpe was not available for comment Saturday. He is expected to do so Monday, school spokesman Rocco Gasparro said.
Louisville failed to make a bowl game in any of Kragthorpe's three years. The Cardinals went 5-16 in the Big East during his stay while fan support eroded. A crowd of 23,422 turned out for the season-finale against the Scarlet Knights, the second-lowest total in the history of Cardinals Stadium.
Jurich, who said he came to a decision in the middle of the week, said fan apathy played a role.
"I watched as the whole season progressed and I feel like we needed a change in culture, a change in scenery," Jurich said.
He'd in no rush, however, to find the coach who will start the rebuilding. He needed less than 48 hours to hire Kragthorpe after Petrino's abrupt departure, but said he has no plans to talk to some of the candidates on his list until the end of the regular season.
"I'm not going to intrude on anybody that's playing right now," he said.
Jurich called Kragthorpe "a slam dunk" when he made the hire on Jan. 9, 2007 and acknowledged on Saturday he'd probably hire Kragthorpe if he had to do things over again.
"He was the hottest guy in the country at the time," Jurich said.
Kragthorpe's stock blossomed after he resuscitated Tulsa's moribund program in 2003, turning the Golden Hurricane -- who won two games total in the two years before Kragthorpe's arrival -- into a perennial bowl contender.
Success proved more elusive at Louisville. His stay began with a top 10 ranking and whispers of a national title shot after Kragthorpe helped persuade star quarterback Brian Brohm to return for his senior season.
Brohm, however, couldn't overcome a porous defense. The Cardinals quickly tumbled from the rankings following a last-second loss to Kentucky in his third game on the job.
Louisville finished 6-6 in 2007, but the Cardinals appeared to get some of their swagger back midway through the 2008 season. They upset South Florida to improve to 5-2 before the bottom fell out. Louisville dropped its final five games, including a 63-14 loss to Rutgers on national television in the season finale.
Kragthorpe came forward the next day pledging to turn things around quickly. Despite the second overhaul of his staff in as many years, it simply didn't happen.
This fall looked a lot like the last two, with Louisville losing close games because of turnovers, penalties and mental errors.
Kragthorpe's players defended him, saying he'd made the locker room a better place when he cleaned house following Petrino's departure. Nearly two dozen players either left or were kicked off the team during Kragthorpe's first 18 months. The coach said the moves were necessary but robbed the Cardinals of depth.
Kragthorpe went through the junior college ranks to fill most of the holes. While there were several success stories -- such as linebacker Jon Dempsey -- there weren't enough to keep Louisville atop the Big East.