Louisville's Kragthorpe: "I'm Not A Quitter"

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Louisville football coach Steve Kragthorpe says he has no plans on leaving and wants to rebuild the team after its first losing season since 1997.

"I'm not a quitter," Kragthorpe said Friday. "I'm going to continue to fight. I'm going to continue to battle."

Kragthorpe is 11-13 in two years at Louisville and hasn't come close to replicating the success of Bobby Petrino, who led the Cardinals to the Orange Bowl in 2006 before leaving for the Atlanta Falcons.

Louisville began the season 5-2, including an upset of South Florida on Oct. 25. A five-game losing streak followed, culminating in an embarrassing 63-14 loss to Rutgers on Thursday. It was the team's worst loss in more than 20 years and dropped the Cardinals to 5-7.

"I am very, very disappointed in the progress we've made the last 2 seasons," Kragthorpe said. "I know fans are disappointed. I know the administration is disappointed ... but I'm going to be here to fix it. I want to be here."

Kragthorpe spoke with reporters for almost an hour on Friday, brushing aside speculation that he'd resign moments after the loss to the Scarlet Knights. Louisville gave up 671 yards of total offense to Rutgers and trailed 49-0 at halftime to scuttle any longshot bowl hopes.

Despite the lopsided outcome, Kragthorpe said his undermanned squad played hard until the final gun and offered it as proof that he hasn't lost the team. Louisville took 62 players on the trip, including just 25 on its injury ravaged defense.

"I'm encouraged with where we're at right now," he said. "Obviously I'm discouraged we didn't get to final point that we wanted to be this season. But I am encouraged with a lot of the players have coming back that really performed at a high level this year."

Athletic director Tom Jurich, who hired Kragthorpe less than 48 hours after Petrino bolted for the pros, has remained a steadfast supporter though Kragthorpe said there has been no talk of extending his contract, which runs through the 2011 season.

"I don't anticipate getting a contract extension. I don't deserve a contract extension right now," Kragthorpe said. "But I do deserve, I think, the opportunity to lead this football program."

Kragthorpe had hoped this would be his breakthrough year. The Cardinals put together a user-friendly schedule that featured eight home games and manageable road trips to Memphis and Syracuse.

Yet the season seemed to follow a similar pattern. Louisville would play well for long stretches during the game, only to self-destruct late. A late interception return for a touchdown let Connecticut escape with a win on Sept. 26. The Cardinals found a way to lose to Big East doormat Syracuse for the second straight year and led eventual conference champion Cincinnati by six late in the third quarter before collapsing.

"I think we're a couple of plays away from competing for a championship," he said.

Maybe, but next year's schedule will be far more difficult. Louisville will travel to West Virginia, South Florida and unbeaten Utah in 2009 and the Cardinals will have to do it while trying to find a quarterback. Senior Hunter Cantwell is done and his backups have thrown all of 14 collegiate passes.

"I'm going to open the job up," he said. "It may be a guy we have, it may be a junior college transfer, it may be a true freshman."

Kragthorpe plans to throw waves of players at his team's depth problems, the result of two years of transfers, dismissals or injuries. Nearly two dozen players have left the program since Kragthorpe replaced Petrino, though the coach is hopeful the steady march out the door has finally stopped.

Who some of the incoming players will play for next year is uncertain. Kragthorpe overhauled his staff after going 6-6 in 2007 and could make more changes next year.

Defensive coordinator Ron English has been mentioned as a candidate for head coaching jobs at San Diego State and Eastern Michigan, though Kragthorpe said he won't address his staffing issues until later this month. The only thing Kragthorpe knows for sure is that he'll be back in 2009.

"I'm in it for the long haul," he said. "We are rebuilding but there's no reason we can't play great football next year."

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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