Last Thoughts before Putting Cardinals’ Year to Bed

Dan McDonnell was shaken:

I’d be lying if I said I was handling it well. It’s hard, it’s really hard. What it does it, it just reminds you how blessed we’ve been.

There he was doing the post mortem on his Cardinal 9’s season weeks before he was expecting to. Not from Omaha, as in Nebraska, site of CWS, but from the Omaha Room in the Louisville baseball complex off the 1st base side of The Jim.

The season began with significant, well deserved promise, started slow, hit its stride, then faltered precipitously after a pause when Pitt came up COVID, and the schools were forced to cancel a weekend series.

A midweek W over vaunted Vandy notwithstanding, the Cards never got it going again. Inconsistent pitching continued. Big knocks in critical situations never materialized. Base running gaffes preyed like a pandemic. Inexplicable errors.

Truth: U of L spit out the bit.

It happens.

This college athletic year it happened a lot. Some schools and their athletic programs dealt with virus issues more adroitly than others. U of L, to the chagrin of all who care, was an other.

Would there be a football season? When would it start? What would it look like? Same questions for hoops?

Yes, Baylor had virus delays but regrouped. Alabama. Arkansas. Some teams in some sports simply dealt with the delays, uncertainty, lack of camaraderie better.

How did venerated Coach K and his team deal with the issues? Not so well.

(One has to believe that the rigors of the pandemic protocol adherence played into his retirement. As Brad Stevens did acknowledge for his move from bench to front office.)

It happens. This college athletic year it happened a lot.

The Red & Black Faithful might have had — should have had? — a premonition that strangeness would reign on the gridiron, hardwood and diamond. That it was not to be the best of years.

U of L’s Greatest of the Great Wes Unseld passed away.

Possible NCAA sanctions hang over the program like rain and clouds over Joe Btfsplk.

Cardinal all-timer Butch Beard said he wasn’t an all-timer anymore.

The Cardinal football team, missing a huge piece on the O line — literally, figuratively — weren’t very good. Then coach dallied with another school.

The hoopsters were raw and small, and not very good.

Coach canned two of his assistants.

Baseball squad simply underperformed.

McDonnell owned his part:

I told the kids when the meeting ended, I said “guys, I’m gonna talk to the media.” I’m responsible. I hold myself responsible for this, and where we’re at, and how we played, and so I have to look in the mirror first, and have to do my checks and balances.

It’s the yin and yang of life.

There once was 2012-13.

There now is 2020-21.

I repeat. While every school, every coach, every player everywhere had to deal with the plague, some, for whatever reasons, couldn’t cope.

Here’s a view from Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes, in an interview at

We were doing well. We didn’t have any positive tests through the end of the summer and into the fall. We played our first two games Thanksgiving weekend, got a couple wins, were feeling pretty good. Then after Thanksgiving weekend, on Monday’s tests, COVID just ravaged our team. Now we’re shut down for 33 days. We go from playing on Thanksgiving and our next game is New Year’s Eve. We couldn’t practice, because we had to go through all the protocols to get back on the court. I was the only person contact-traced in the whole deal. Everybody else had symptoms. It’s kind of scary, right? You’ve got all these kids, you’re calling their parents every night, trying to get through this thing. Then, oh by the way, you’re going to open at Georgia Tech, at Virginia and at Duke. Gee, thanks.

We were just really in a state of flux. We just couldn’t establish any rhythm, let alone conditioning. Conditioning, my lord, we lost all of that. It was really a dysfunctional year. I thought we hit the wall in February a little bit. Got a little bit overwhelmed. Then I thought we fought back hard toward the end. If anything, the kids battled hard and kept a great attitude during a really difficult season. I’m not trying to make excuses. But I can’t imagine there’s too many teams in the country that went through what we went through.

Jeff Walz’s basketballers fought their way through.

Justine Sowry’s field hockey gang made it to the Final Four.

Ryan Blagg’s golf squad reached new heights.

Senior leadership helped immensely in those situations.

I guess I’ve said all this before. To my fellow Card fans. And in this space.

I suppose I need to vent one last time.

Given all that’s going on, human interaction that indicates lots of folks are still out of sorts from the shutdown, not just in sports but culture, politics, etc., I believe it germane not to undervalue the negative effects of our global malaise.

It’s June. Some sense of normalcy has returned to college athletics.

I’m accepting what happened, as hard as that is, and looking forward.

To opening kickoff.

To opening tipoff.

To first pitch. (OK, maybe I’ll wait a smidge on that, never having been a huge fan of baseball in frigid February.)

— c d kaplan

One thought on “Last Thoughts before Putting Cardinals’ Year to Bed

  1. You’re going to see a lot more coaches get out. First, Roy. Now, Coach K. It’s NIL. It’s the portal. As discussed, coaches have to manage recruiting of high school kids, grad students, transfer portal, foreign players and AAU stuff. “Who’s gonna pay me and how much, Coach?” “What’s Louisville going to do to promote my brand, Coach?” The game we grew up with is not the game that’s moving forward. The only thing we can count on is that the ball will be round.

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