Updated: November 28, 2009, 2:01 PM ET

Kragthorpe out at Louisville

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By Pat Forde
ESPN.com
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Steve Kragthorpe has coached his last game at Louisville.

[+] EnlargeSteve Kragthorpe
AP Photo/Mel EvansSteve Kragthorpe went 15-21 in three seasons at Louisville.

The Cardinals' 34-14 loss to Rutgers ends Kragthorpe's tenure after three disappointing seasons. Kragthorpe, who went 15-21 at Louisville, met with athletic director Tom Jurich on Saturday to determine the best way to handle his departure.

"I felt we needed to go in another direction and get this program back on the track," Jurich said Saturday afternoon.

Kragthorpe had two years remaining on a contract that paid him about $1.1 million 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."

A search will begin immediately for his successor, though Jurich might not move as quickly as he has in the past. Jurich previously hired Bobby Petrino almost immediately after losing John L. Smith to Michigan State and did the same thing in naming Kragthorpe to replace Petrino.

But both of those searches began late in the hiring cycle. Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons in January, and Smith left in late December, as word leaked out while the Cardinals were playing Marshall in the GMAC Bowl. This time around, with many teams still playing, Louisville must be mindful of ongoing seasons.

Two coaches heavy in the speculation mill are Houston's Kevin Sumlin and Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, and both could be playing next week. If Sumlin's Cougars defeat heavy underdog Rice on Saturday, they will play in the Conference USA championship game Dec. 5. Strong and the Gators have a date with Alabama in the SEC title game the same day.

Other potential candidates include Texas Tech's Mike Leach, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville and former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. Multiple sources have told ESPN.com that Fulmer is interested in the job.

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.

For Kragthorpe, this marks the end of a surprisingly unsuccessful tenure. After rebuilding Tulsa, he was viewed as a popular candidate at several locations, among them Colorado and Arizona State when those schools were looking to replace Gary Barnett and Dirk Koetter, respectively. For the Cardinals, Kragthorpe looked like another in a long line of successful hires for Jurich.

But it never panned out. With star quarterback Brian Brohm and a talented cast of skill position players returning, Louisville went from the preseason top 10 to 6-6 as the team's defense collapsed. That was followed by seasons of 5-7 and 4-8, as the Cardinals steadily leaked talent and became less competitive in the Big East.

With Louisville expanding Papa John's Cardinal Stadium from 42,000 to more than 60,000 seats and disgruntled fans staying away in droves this season, going forward with Kragthorpe was a no-win proposition. A crowd of only 23,422 attended the finale Friday against Rutgers, many of them using tickets that had been given away by unhappy season-ticket holders.

With that game over, Louisville can conclude its relationship with Kragthorpe and commence the search for his successor.

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.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.