How Louisville landed its next football coach
It helped that Josh Heird had a head start.
The Louisville athletic director, like many of his peers in college athletics, keeps coaching candidate shortlists at the ready. You never know when you’ll have to make a change or when another school will come courting a coach.
And with the U of L football team struggling to start the season, Heird’s focus was on football.
It’s not that he was ready to pull the trigger on then-coach Scott Satterfield.
Heird just wanted to be ready. He’d made a football coaching shortlist after the previous season. It was time to check it twice.
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“Obviously the way the season was going at the beginning of the year, I had spent a lot of time working through what that list looked like,” Heird said at a Thursday news conference.
It wasn’t necessarily a “list of one,” Heird said. But Jeff Brohm’s name was at the top of it. He’s a popular former Cardinal, a Louisville native and a proven head coach at Western Kentucky and Purdue. He’d agonized over turning down the U of L job in 2018.
And as he evaluated in the fall, Heird said, “I didn’t think there was anybody as qualified” as Brohm.
So when Satterfield left Monday to become the head coach at Cincinnati, Heird was prepared to spring into action.
And that helped land Brohm in a process that was essentially completed in a day but not finalized until late Thursday afternoon, when the U of L Athletic Association executive committee approved a contract for the Louisville alum and former Purdue head coach.
After Brohm’s introduction Thursday inside Angel’s Envy Bourbon Club at Cardinal Stadium, Heird laid out the timeline in an interview with The Courier Journal.
Heird and Satterfield hold a planned meeting to look back at Louisville’s season, a standard review that typically takes place between an AD and coach in all sports.
At that meeting, Satterfield first makes Heird aware that he’s a candidate for the vacant Cincinnati job.
“And I just had a feeling of, ‘I’ve really got to get my ducks in a row here, because I think this is a real possibility,’” Heird said. “And so I spent most of Saturday night and then all day Sunday just saying, ‘We’re gonna be as prepared as we can be if this happens to take place.’”
Early Monday morning, Heird learns that Satterfield is accepting the Cincinnati job.
That’s when things pick up steam.
It helps that Heird doesn’t have to go searching for contacts. He knows Shawn Freibert, Brohm’s agent. He has Freibert’s number and Heird puts it to use, reaching out via text soon after he learns he has a coaching vacancy.
That text happens early Monday, and it’s to the point. The gist: “We need to chat.”
Meanwhile, Brohm is becoming aware of the Louisville opening the same way most of the city and college football followers are.
Via social media.
Brohm drops off his son Brady at school and soon after, Brady sends him a text.
“Dad, have you seen Twitter?”
“Of course, I’m not very good with my phone; I said, ‘No I have not,’” Jeff Brohm said. “He goes, ‘You might want to look at Twitter.’ So I did, and that’s how I found out.”
Brohm has a news conference scheduled at 10 a.m. to discuss Purdue’s upcoming appearance in the Citrus Bowl. He attends as scheduled, is asked about the Louisville opening and says “there’s been no contact.”
At that point, there hasn’t been. Not with Brohm at least. Heird still is working through preliminary discussions with Freibert.
Brohm is making about $5.1 million in salary at Purdue; Louisville had paid Satterfield about $3.25 million annually. So Heird and Freibert first have to determine if the Cardinals can offer a number worth starting a discussion.
“And I felt like we were pretty close,” Heird said. ‘We were a long way from crossing the finish line, but we were close enough to say, ‘Hey, let’s have a conversation.’”
Before that talk can happen, Heird touches base with Brohm’s boss, Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski.
“I have a really good relationship with Mike, respect the hell out of Mike,” Heird said. “And so before I even thought about talking to Jeff, I reached out to (Bobinski) and said, Hey, I want to have a conversation.’”
Brohm and Bobinski need to have one too, and when they do Brohm tells his boss he’s going to listen to his alma mater. Bobinski was “respectful,” Brohm said.
“He understood, and he knew that this might be the time, I think,” Brohm said. “And of course he didn’t want that. He more than tried to talk me out of it.”
At one point during the week, Brohm said, Bobinski tells him “you name the price and the years” to stay, but Brohm insists the opportunity to return home is about more than that.
Later in the day Monday, Heird gets face-to-face time with Brohm — at a neutral site. Monday night, the two men meet in Indianapolis. Despite their shared connections to U of L, they have never previously met.
Their first meeting goes well. And long.
By about 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, Heird is confident he has his coach.
But the deal isn’t done. That can’t happen for another two days.
Tuesday and Wednesday
As the news begins to leak — ESPN’s Chris Low reports late Wednesday morning that Louisville and Brohm “are in the process of finalizing a deal” — Heird still is working behind the scenes to put the finishing touches on the hire.
They aren’t all in his hands.
“I’m never comfortable with these until our board approves them,” Heird said. “A lot of times you try to kind of grease the wheels and do the work beforehand, but you just don’t know. It’s their duty to have oversight of our department for the ULAA board, and obviously the Board of Trustees (does the same) for the university.”
Louisville can’t hire Brohm without board approval. And by law, it can’t hold a board meeting without giving 24 hours’ notice. Late in the afternoon, the university sends a news release announcing 4 p.m. Thursday meetings of the U of L Athletics Association Executive Committee and the school’s Board of Trustees.
By the time reporters arrive at the Angel’s Envy Bourbon Club on the third floor of Cardinal Stadium, a few flat-screen TVs have spoiled any remaining suspense.
A few prematurely display a welcome screen, a photo of Brohm from his days as the Louisville quarterback and another of him coaching, in front of a white backdrop with keywords stacked atop one another: “Passion; Family; Tradition; Brohm Is Back.”
The board meetings start just after 4 p.m. and after a brief closed session, the executive committee and Board of Trustees authorize Heird to extend a contract to Brohm, details of which are distributed to reporters.
At 5:02 p.m., Brohm and his wife Jennifer, along with Brody and daughter Brooke, enter the club for a public announcement as hundreds of Louisville fans cheer from the back of the room. They circle the news-conference space and line the wide staircase to the fourth floor.
It’s been a little more than four full days since Satterfield’s departure.
As Heird steps to a podium to introduce his new football coach, he provides a reminder: It’s been a whirlwind week.
“As you can imagine, I haven’t had a lot of time to work on these remarks here,” Heird says, glancing toward his shoes. “Somehow managed to forget my dress socks today.”