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Louisville's coach ready to impress
Steve Kragthorpe feels he can continue the Cardinals' success in the Big East Conference.
By GREG AUMAN
Published July 18, 2007
NEWPORT, R.I. - The last time Steve Kragthorpe took over a college football program, it was a Tulsa team that had gone 2-21 in the previous two seasons. Improvement in near-anonymity was almost a certainty, but Kragthorpe still impressed, leading the Hurricanes to three bowls and a Conference USA championship in his four seasons there.
This fall, he has nearly the opposite challenge, taking over a talent-laden powerhouse at Louisville, inheriting a Heisman candidate quarterback and the national expectations that Bobby Petrino left behind when he was hired by the Atlanta Falcons.
Louisville has gone 32-5 in the past three seasons, but again, the hope is that Kragthorpe can make his new team better.
"My expectation level is very high. I'm not coaching this team any different than I did at Tulsa," said Kragthorpe, whose team was picked to finish second behind West Virginia in the league's preseason media poll. "I'm trying to prepare a team that every time we go out in a game situation, we're performing at an optimum level. By doing that, hopefully we put ourselves in a position to be successful."
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich gave Kragthorpe his first college coaching job 17 years ago, hiring him as quarterbacks coach at Northern Arizona. As Petrino flirted with other jobs in recent years, Jurich said there was an understanding that Kragthorpe would be next for the Cardinals.
"He was going to be our coach," Jurich said at the league's preseason media gathering. "When Bobby was going to Auburn, Steve was going to be our coach. Three years ago, it was LSU, last year it was the Raiders, and Steve would have been our coach. We got him to hold off on a lot of jobs because he's a hot coach. I said, 'Be patient, and we're going to get this thing for you.' "
Kragthorpe's best recruiting effort came in lobbying quarterback Brian Brohm to return for his senior year instead of leaving for the NFL. Brohm led the Big East with 3,049 passing yards, throwing 16 touchdowns and five interceptions, and returns his top two receivers in Mario Urrutia and Harry Douglas.
Brohm, a Louisville native, was concerned about a new coach for his senior year but said he saw enough in Kragthorpe to expect an easy transition with a similar offense.
"Learning the way he's going to run things, the way he goes about his business, I didn't think we were going to miss a beat as a team," Brohm said. "I didn't want to come back and have a mediocre year, and I don't feel like that's going to happen."
There are many similarities between Petrino and Kragthorpe. Both were born in Montana. Both worked as offensive assistants in the NFL before returning to coach in college, and their fathers were both college football coaches. Kragthorpe is 42, and Petrino was the same age when he coached his first game at Louisville.
Kragthorpe has sought a more personal relationship with his players, saying getting to know them was his top priority in the offseason.
"Steve's a real people person, very outgoing. Bobby's strictly X's and O's," Jurich said.
Kragthorpe said his situation is unusual in that programs with Louisville's success often promote from within, rather than turning to an outsider.
"A lot of times, they promote from within so the ship just keeps on sailing," he said. "In this situation, the ship is still sailing, but there's just a new captain."
The spotlight cast on him in Louisville will be far brighter than anything at Tulsa, and the teams he'll have to beat are far tougher, most notably a Nov. 8 showdown at West Virginia.
"The job he did at Tulsa arguably is one of the top five jobs ever done in college football," Jurich said. "It ranks there with Northwestern and Gary Barnett, Bill Snyder at Kansas State. ... He's been very complimentary of our success, but he's also his own man and he's set his own program in place here."