Before University of Louisville interim athletic director Josh Heird's position was made permanent Friday morning, prominent supporters of former Louisville AD Tom Jurich protested the latest hiring process in a letter to interim president Lori Gonzalez.
As reported by the Louisville Courier Journal, Dr. Mark Lynn and Jim Patterson, who between them have donated more than $10 million to the athletic department, joined with Muhammad Ali's widow, Lonnie, in expressing frustration that "the best candidate in terms of experience and proven documented success was not granted a personal interview."
Jurich, whose 20-year as the university's athletic director ended in the fallout from the federal probe of basketball recruiting irregularities in 2017, had shown interest in returning to the university, but according to an associate was unwilling to sign a non-disclosure agreement, as Heird had.
Related: Jurich: 'I Was Earning Every Penny'
Jurich did not respond to telephone and text messages from the Courier Journal.
"Tom Jurich had made it clear that he was keenly interested in the position and highly motivated to use his skill set to help the athletic department return to their rightful place as a prominent player on the national college landscape," the letter to Gonzalez said. "The fact that Tom has retained his love for the university after the disgraceful manner in which he was terminated speaks volumes and is a small miracle in itself. We find it bizarre that he was not given the respect of a proper professional interview.
"It is our understanding that you did have a brief conversation with Tom and although your interest in him as a possible candidate was not expressed you did ask if he might help identify other possible applicants. One could easily assume that the decision had been made and that the university was looking to fill the roster for the sake of appearances."
Less than three weeks after Gonzalez announced the hiring of Collegiate Sports Associates to assist in the hiring of a permanent athletic director, the university's Board of Trustees voted unanimously to make Heird's position permanent at a campus meeting Friday morning, the Courier Journal reported.
Now in his sixth month in charge of the department, Heird is credited with negotiating the departure of basketball coach Chris Mack; the hiring of Mack's replacement, Kenny Payne; creating a standalone name, image and likeness department "to show student-athletes we can maximize their earning potential during their time at Louisville"; and providing additional resources that have resulted in a marked improvement in the school's rankings in terms of football recruiting.
A repeated point of emphasis among Jurich supporters is whether Heird can match the fundraising abilities of his former mentor and mollify donors who distanced themselves from the department upon Jurich's departure.
"Our committee was concerned from the beginning that the university would take the easy route and select the interim," the letter to Gonzalez said. "Although we are optimistic that with determination and years of experience at a smaller school [Villanova], Mr. Heird will become a capable AD, we believe the responsibilities and demands at a prominent Division I school may not be the best place to begin. This decision is not fair to Mr. Heird nor is it fair to the program and fanbase.
"It is now apparent that superior experience and accomplishments were not a consideration in this decision. It is certainly your prerogative to make decisions without input from others. Your clear message has been received by our group of over forty business leaders of which we represent."