Louisville Football seemed completely dead last year. It seemed that the coaching staff that was supposed to provide insight, wisdom, and character building had provided next to nothing. The staff seemed checked out and the head coach seemed not to truly care about the plight of his team. As an outside observer, it’s hard to tell what the truth was of the relationship between Bobby Petrino, his staff, and the players. All we do know is that there was a loss of trust and a loss of belief by the players in the staff and that staff’s ability to prepare them and improve them.
Before the season was finished, Bobby Petrino was fired. He had lost the confidence of his staff, the athletic department, and most importantly the players. It was a systematic failure of relationships. The players had been undisciplined all season. They lacked a very basic and fundamental aspect of football and life: effort. Effort is the one thing every human on this planet can control. When one does not put in effort in whatever they are trying to do, it shows they don’t care. The lack of effort by players was evident from the Florida State game onward. They did not care for a game that we all know they loved. They did not care because they had no respect for or belief in Petrino and his staff. It appears they believed that Petrino didn’t care about them.
Many players, in the postmortem of the Bobby 2.0 era, would cite a lack of accountability. That Petrino and staff didn’t hold players accountable for their play on the field during practice or games. That lack of accountability was tantamount to a coach who didn’t care and the play of the team reflected what appeared to be the attitude of their coach. It led to a firing before the end of the season. However, the cancerous environment was too much for an interim coach to overcome. The team was still listless in its final couple of games. Finally, the season from Hell mercifully ended.
The coaching search happens and everyone’s belief is that it was Jeff Brohm or bust. It turned out to be neither. Jeff Brohm chose not to return home and lead his alma mater. He chose to remain at Purdue. Athletic Director Vince Tyra wasted no time in homing in on his second choice, although many now believe it was his first choice all along, Scott Satterfield.
Coach Satterfield was the head coach at group of 5 school Appalachian State. He oversaw their transition from FCS to the FBS. He did it quite successfully too. However, would the players accept this man from NC? Would they buy into his philosophy and coaching?
There was inevitable roster turnover. Some players transferred out. It was understandable because fans had come to realize they had been through a lot. Obviously some had been lost to graduation as well. Many players chose to stay. They wanted to give this new coach a chance.
After an offseason where all the talk was about changing the culture and bringing accountability and discipline back, fans couldn’t know if the team had truly been transformed until they saw that first game against Notre Dame. We couldn’t see the trust-building taking place between the staff and players. We couldn’t know that the buy-in had happened and the transformation from an uncompetitive 2-10 team to a team that would go bowling was taking place. All we had were the words of players and coaches during media availability and ACC Kickoff. We had grown weary of words. All we heard during the previous season were hollow words about spirited practices and improvements that never showed. Then came Labor Day night.
New head coach Scott Satterfield debuted his first Louisville team on Labor Day night. It was against a playoff team from 2018 by the name of Notre Dame. This was the first trip ever for the Fighting Irish to Cardinal Stadium. The fans showed up and were hungry to see their Louisville Cardinals play football. You knew how terribly last season went when the talk in the weeks leading up to this big game was all about how people just hoped to see improved effort. The bar was really this low.
This group of players and coaches came out and showed that all the talk from the offseason wasn’t hollow. The Cards fought hard all game. They hit with vigor, had big plays offensively and defensively, and they gave the 9th ranked Irish all they wanted, but ultimately they lost 35-17. However, fans saw what they wanted. They saw a team that fought and clawed and hung with Notre Dame. The score was not indicative of the way the game was played.
From that point forward Louisville fans had become invested in football again. And it was clear the team had too. Javian Hawkins ran all over the competition in route to a 1000 yard season. He’s got 1278 yards rushing and 7 TDs and there is one regular season game and a bowl game left. His 1278 yards are a freshman rushing record for UofL. Tutu Atwell has 1068 yards and 11 TDs. The sophomore receiver has become a go-to weapon for the offense. Marshon Ford has become a great blocker and pass catcher. A hometown walk-on that earned a scholarship. Dez and Seth have been as reliable and made huge catches throughout the season while also being excellent blocking downfield. The offensive line has improved immensely as evidenced by the rushing and passing numbers. Mekhi Becton, Robbie Bell, Caleb Chandler, TJ McCoy, Cole Bentley, Tyler Haycraft, and Adonis Boone have been absolute beasts on the field. The defense is where depth is a major problem, but they have managed to fight admirably. Guys like GG Robinson, Dorian Etheridge, Russ Yeast, Chandler Jones, and Rodjay Burns have made some big stops to help win games. Obviously, it hasn’t been pretty, but think back to the Syracuse game when they stopped Cuse in a goal to go or when they stymied Wake Forest for much of the first half. Think about how well they defended Bryce Perkins and Virginia to help get that win. Perkins made his mark last year against Louisville, dicing up this defense.
The players that stayed had bought in. They committed fully to this staff and to the university. Many easily could’ve transferred and nothing would’ve been said because of the situation they endured last year. Guys like Mekhi Becton, GG Robinson, Dez Fitzpatrick, Tutu Atwell, Dorian Etheridge, Rodjay Burns, Hassan Hall, Javian Hawkins, and Chandler Jones could’ve just left. They didn’t. They stayed and gave their all for Louisville Football. It led to an improbable 7-4 record, a 5-3 ACC record, a second place finish in the ACC Atlantic Division, a bowl game, and a chance at 8 wins Saturday. If you had asked Louisville fans if they believed they would go into the UK game with a chance at 8 wins, they would’ve dismissed that question with a giggle of ridicule because it was a ridiculous notion. However, it’s reality all these weeks later.
This season is one for our memories. It’s something that you would imagine came from the mind of some Disney screenwriter:
A successful coach known for his irascible and sociopathic nature returns to a program he helped put on the map, but instead of unbelievable success, he nearly wrecks it. The prodigal son is eyed to bring the program back to respectability, but chooses not to heed the call of home. In steps a likable coach from North Carolina with a southern drawl and a sunny disposition. He takes a team of talented players that had lost and had endured a toxic culture and instills belief, hope, and a will to win again. The coach and players develop a trust and they go from 2-10 to 8-4 (hopefully). They make a program that just a season before seemed to have lost all momentum built up over a decade, into a winner again.
This is what happened in reality. This is no Disney movie. We witnessed something truly amazing. This team always had talent. We thought it had coaching, but it didn’t. The former staff had run the good ship Cardinal aground. The former staff had killed the spirit of their players and their love of football. Coach Scott Satterfield and his amazing staff came in and resurrected the spirit of the players. He helped them rediscover their love of the game. The players accepted their new coach and allowed him to help them rediscover and resurrect those things. Now we have a winning football team that provided thrilling and feel-good moments for the Cardinal fan base all season long.
This season is truly one for the memories.. There have been bouts with mediocrity throughout the life of the program, but it was never closer to wallowing in it than after last season. Even the 1-10 Coach Cooper team at least fought hard during every game. They never lost hope and never lost respect for their coaches. That most definitely happened last season. This team, these players, and these coaches, should all be immortalized in memory and spoken of to future generations of Cards fans. Thank you players and coaches for the memories of this season. I know many more will be made, some hopefully bigger, but none will ever overshadow these.