Who says winning isn’t everything? There’s never been a better time to be a Cardinal fan than the present. The University of Louisville’s athletic programs are at the top of their game, and if predictions are correct, fans will be cheering for years to come.
There’s no denying the men’s basketball program put Louisville athletics on the map, but over the past several years it has been the rising success of never-before-mentioned athletic programs grabbing national attention. I had the pleasure of meeting Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director Julie Hermann to find out what it takes to stay competitive on the college level.
LORI KOMMOR: Basketball athletics put Louisville on the map. Tell us about the overall strategy for athletic programs?
JULIE HERMANN: Basketball did put Louisville “on the map,” but before Tom (Jurich) even took the job in October of 1997, he was clear he did not want to be “only a basketball” school. He wanted every sport UofL sponsored to have championship opportunities for every athlete that wore the Cardinal jersey. All of his work and decisions have been focused on creating the infrastructure required to position all 23 sports for those opportunities.
It’s easy to be in awe of the buildings he’s built and it’s obvious his coaching hires are best in class, but what people don’t realize is it’s all built around a “students first” philosophy that Tom lives every day. In 15 years, every decision was focused on our students.
KOMMOR: The Cardinal fans have seen their favorite sports teams reach unprecedented levels of success in recent years. What are the keys to your success in building these programs?
HERMANN: I think the key is how passionate Tom is and how passionate every member of our team is. Every coach, every trainer, every strength coach, every academic counselor around every team has to be über-committed and super high-energy to assist our students to be the best they can be every day.
A championship mind-set and game preparation is built on 100 decisions a day. It doesn’t just happen on the weekends or because you got pumped up and excited once. So it’s all hands on deck supporting the dreams and inspirations of the over 700 student-athletes that compete for the Cardinals every day, both on the field and in the classroom.
KOMMOR: How does it feel to be a part of the Tom Jurich team, who is responsible for the major turnaround in the UofL sports programs?
HERMANN: Well, turnaround implies that we were once there. What Tom is doing is uncharted territory at Louisville and nationally. There are several schools with great collegiate brands, but creating a nationally competitive brand in all your sports in just 15 years is incredibly rare. So to be a part of it is an extraordinary privilege and an honor. To work for Tom is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see first-hand high integrity leadership in action every day.
KOMMOR: When recruiting athletes from all over the country, what are some of the selling points about the campus life they’ll experience?
HERMANN: Recruiting and selling UofL to the top student-athletes from around the country and the world is pure joy. Who else in the nation has built 1.3 billion dollars in new buildings and infrastructure in the last decade alone, but somehow still has a 16:1 student/instructor ratio and pumps out Fulbrights honors like it’s a snap? What other college town creates hundreds of internships and co-op opportunities right where the students live?
Whether you’re from Belarus or the Highlands, going away to college on our campus is a world class experience in a real world community that supports students on every level. The challenge for today’s student is not getting a degree, it’s getting a job. The University of Louisville is in a thriving metropolis and America’s biggest college sports town, and that’s a huge key to their future.
KOMMOR: Your career as an athlete and an athletic administer is quite impressive. Tell us how you ended up in the ‘Ville?
HERMANN: Lucky. Very lucky. I was coaching with USA Volleyball preparing that team for the Sydney Olympic Games when Tom called about the opportunity to come to Louisville. He could have called 500 other women administrators, but he gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come assist him with what he would build at Louisville.
Since I had only coached I was not convinced I would be any good as an administrator, but in typical Tom fashion he had a bigger vision for me than I had for myself. That’s what he does – he takes common people and gives them uncommon goals and bigger vision.
KOMMOR: What programs do you consider the rising stars of the UofL athletic programs?
HERMANN: I’m not sure we have a program that is not rising. We all know that football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball are Top 10, but volleyball, swimming, men’s soccer are Top 15 and now field hockey is nationally ranked. I expect baseball and softball to enter the national polls where they left off and keep rising.
The ones that may not be on your radar but we expect to be playing for Big East titles are both golf programs and the rowing program. We have new cross country coaches raising the bar very quickly, and expect to vie for titles, as always, in indoor and outdoor track. Women’s soccer finished in the Sweet Sixteen last year but struggled with injury this fall. The fall of 2013 may be their best year ever. Both men’s and women’s tennis may have their best years ever.
The truth is, Tom has created such a powerful portfolio of programs, they lift each other up continually, and that is also part of why you see them rising. They influence each other greatly.
KOMMOR: I’ve been the consummate soccer mom for many years, and as a friend and a fan I’m curious to know your thoughts on the men’s soccer coach, Ken Lolla.
HERMANN: There is no better men’s soccer coach in the country, and very few coaches in the world like Ken. What Ken Lolla has done, first at Akron and now at Louisville, is unparalleled.
And when you look inside to see how Ken has lead his team, it truly blows you away. Ken is a deeply inspiring leader who affects his players in a master teacher style that makes his players better men. If he invites you to drop your son at the door to play for him, don’t ever say no. It will be a life-altering experience for your child.