By Dalton Ray–
The University of Louisville has one of the best overall athletic programs in the nation, and it starts with the coaching staff. Athletic director Tom Jurich has assembled a collection of head coaches which rivals any college in the country.
So, who is the best coach on Louisville’s campus? Here’s the ranking of the top 10 coaches for the Louisville Cardinals:
This list consists of what the listed coaches have done at U of L.
Honorable mention: Justine Sowry, field hockey
Sowry is barely on the outside looking in, mainly because she has been a Cardinal for only six years. In that time, U of L is 80-41 with three NCAA tournament appearances, a conference title and six NFHCA All-Americans. Sowry is coming off arguably her best year at U of L — 15 wins and a NCAA tournament appearance — and all signs point up for the field hockey program.
10. Karen Ferguson-Dayes, women’s soccer
Ferguson-Dayes is one of the longest tenured coaches on U of L campus, entering her 17th season. With four NCAA tournament appearances and a Sweet 16 showing in 2011, Ferguson-Dayes is the program’s all-time winning coach with 148 wins.
9. Sandy Pearsall, softball
Few can build a program from scratch and lead it to 13 straight NCAA appearances, but Pearsall’s an exception. She earned C-USA Coach of the Year in 2000 during Louisville’s inaugural season, churned out a 40-26 record in 2001 and the program’s first NCAA appearance in 2004.
Pearsall has 685 wins at U of L (nearly 950 for a career) with four regular season conference championships and two conference tournament titles. With Pearsall at the helm, the Cardinals have been one of the nation’s most consistent programs.
8. Ken Lolla, men’s soccer
Before Lolla, the men’s soccer program had only seven winning seasons of their previous 27. In his second season at U of L, Lolla led the Cardinals to their first NCAA tournament. Since, Louisville has made the NCAA tournament nine times in the last 10 years.
Being the national runner-up in 2010 highlighted Lolla’s tenure. In the last seven years, Lolla has led U of L to six tournament berths, three Elite Eight appearances and a national runner-up placing. Lolla led Louisville to an unexpected Elite Eight run in 2016, turning his team around from 7-9-3 in 2015 to 14-6-2.
7. Bobby Petrino, football
Petrino has been at U of L for eight years (2003-2006 and 2014-present) and is the program’s all-time winningest coach. Petrino led Louisville to their first ever BCS win in the 2006 Orange Bowl. Louisville has been to a bowl every season under Petrino, and has won at least eight games.
Louisville also earned three conference championships (two C-USA and one Big East), three bowl wins and the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner (Lamar Jackson) behind Petrino.
6. Kellie Young, women’s lacrosse
Like Pearsall, Jurich chose Young to pioneer the lacrosse program. Starting in 2008, Young has had only one losing season and 106 wins in 10 seasons.
Young has led Louisville to four straight NCAA tournaments, including a 2014 Sweet 16 appearance. The Big East and IWLCA 2014 Coach of the Year, Young has produced 11 IWLCA All-Americans and 27 all-region members. Young is an extremely rare and special coach who has created one of the nation’s fastest rising programs in under a decade.
5. Rex Ecarma, men’s tennis
The longest tenured coach at Louisville, Ecarma has 446 career wins and is one of 18 active coaches in the nation with at least 400 wins. Ecarma has a 60 percent winning percentage with five conference championships, 12 NCAA appearances and four NCAA regional appearances.
A four-time Coach of the Year winner, Ecarma led U of L to 49 straight regular season home victories between 2002-2007. The Cardinals have ranked in the ITA’s top 25 six different seasons since 2006.
4. Jeff Walz, women’s basketball
The only coach to make two national title appearances at U of L, Walz is one of the nation’s predominant coaches at age 45. Ten years into the job and Walz’s record is 263-93 — 74 percent winning-percent. Prior to Walz, Louisville never reached 30 wins a season.
In his time at Louisville, Walz has guided the Cardinals to nine NCAA tournament appearances, two national runner-ups, three Elite Eights and seven Sweet 16s. Walz also lights up the recruiting trail, bringing in top 10 classes since 2014 and top three classes in the last two years.
3. Arthur Albiero, swimming
Albiero is one of few coaches on U of L’s campus to have both an international and national impact in his 15 seasons at Louisville. While Albiero is one of most decorated coaches on U of L’s campus, he may be the most underrated. Between the men and women teams, Louisville has seven conference championships behind the four-time Coach of the Year winner.
A member of the USA National Team’s coaching staff in the 2016 Olympics, seven of Albiero’s swimmers competed in Rio. In all, 14 of Albiero’s swimmers have competed in the Olympics. Shifting to the NCAA, Albiero has helped produce Louisville’s four national champions — Carlos Almeida, Joan De Lucca (two-time), Kelsi Worrell (two-time) and Mallory Comerford. He also has 28 All-Americans under his belt.
2. Dan McDonnell, baseball
McDonnell, the reigning three-time ACC Coach of the Year, is on one of the hottest tears in the nation. Since 2013, his team is 250-73 (77 percent winning percentage) with four 50-win seasons, three College World Series appearances and two Super Regional appearances.
College baseball’s second highest-paid head coach is 508-201 with eight conference championships in 11 years. Along with 31 All-American selections, McDonnell has over 50 MLB draft picks during his time at U of L. McDonnell is the most accomplished coach in program history, leading in wins, winning percentage and the only coach to lead Louisville to the CWS.
1. Rick Pitino, men’s basketball
Pitino has become a polarizing subject since the NCAA scandal, but that doesn’t negate his coaching ability. Taking over the program in 2001, Louisville is 420-143 with a national title in 2013, three Final Four appearances, six Elite Eights, seven Sweet 16’s and 13 NCAA tournament appearances. Louisville also has six conference tournament titles and four regular season titles.
Pitino is a college basketball Hall of Fame inductee, honored in 2013. Since 2007, Louisville has only missed one NCAA tournament (2016 self-imposed postseason ban). Louisville is 171-47 since the 2011-2012 season, ranking them top five nationally in that span.
Photo by Dalton Ray / The Louisville Cardinal