By Matt Bradshaw —
Freedom Hall roared as Taquan Dean* drained a three-pointer. Above the noise, Sean Moth proclaimed the bucket with iconic delivery.
I stood in the stands, a boy of eight, electrified by the atmosphere and roused by the announcer. It was fantastic. It was classic. It was vintage Louisville men’s basketball.
Fourteen years later, I sit across from the Voice of the Cardinals to conduct an interview. He works as the Senior Manager of Broadcast and Public Address while I work as a student journalist. Rather than entertain with his finest moments, Moth begins talking about the time he broke his leg leaving the press box at Old Cardinal Stadium.
“Ironically, it’s like they’re fond because they’re not fond,” Moth says about his memories of the venue. “I was with the baseball team as their sports information director from 2000 until the new stadium opened in 2005. The dugouts were old. The temperature was always 10 or 15 degrees colder than the actual air temperature. There was nothing nice about it.”
Old Cardinal Stadium is set to be demolished, an epicenter of local sports for decades. It seems fitting to add another bit of history to the books, if only a fractured fibula.
“The press box for baseball is suspended from the roof, so you have to walk across a chain-link catwalk to get there,” Moth says. “I wrapped up the game, my radio equipment in one hand, my brief case in the other, and as I get to the end of the catwalk they turn off the stadium lights. It’s pitch black. I’m going down the steps and I thought I had one step to go, but I had two. I took a bad step and hurt my leg.”
A trainer treated Moth and gave him a boot to wear, but he returned home unaware of the fracture. Moth arrived on campus the next day for work, parking at the gravel lot where Ralph Wright Natatorium currently sits.
Former volleyball coach Leonid Yelin found Moth hopping through the lot. He advised Moth to get an X-ray, upon which Moth found his fibula broken above the ankle.
Back in the present, I find bittersweet nostalgia on Moth’s face as he recounts the past.
“In a nutshell, breaking my leg walking out of the press box, I would be happy to lead the demolition of that building, with all due respect to the great history,” Moth says of Old Cardinal Stadium. “It was the first venue in Minor League Baseball to draw a million fans over the course of a season. I got to see future big leaguers there. There were some great Louisville games. Maybe the greatest sporting event it saw in the modern age was the Michael Bush/Brian Brohm State Championship game.”
Beyond the fairgrounds, Moth witnessed U of L baseball grow to its current success. He played a part in the planning of Jim Patterson Stadium, including creating a nifty time-lapse of its construction, and continues to broadcast for the Cards on the radio.
“Honestly, I’m kind of glad I’m not the SID anymore because that responsibility has become extremely intensified,” Moth says. “Physically there has been growth and Lelo Prado did a great job of setting the foundation. Coach Mac has taken it to a new level.”
When mentioning Dan McDonnell’s nickname, Moth distinguishes the “original” Coach Mac from Chris Mack of men’s basketball. It’s easy to catch the excitement for baseball season in Moth’s eyes, as well as respect for the head coach beginning his 13th season.
“He’s been incredible,” Moth says of McDonnell. “Preseason polls are out and we’re No. 4. It makes my life a lot easier as a broadcaster. People tell me I do a good job on the broadcasts. I respond ‘It’s easy to broadcast a good team.'”
Good teams with successful, long-term coaches are synonymous with Louisville Athletics. The outlook for each sport changes year-to-year, but staff members like Moth and sports information directors remain consistent throughout.
This type of cohesion is not often found in collegiate sports, yet it persists at the University of Louisville. A core group of SID’s has worked for the Louisville Cardinals since the late 1990’s. Moth recognizes what such a staff is worth behind-the-scenes.
“Kim (Pemberton), Kenny (Klein) and Kathy Tronzo were all here when they hired me in 1999. Lori Korte was working as an assistant at the same time,” Moth says. “Ultimately, what that stability boils down to is Kenny as a boss. He’s the best in the business. He creates a great working environment. The lack of turnover is because this is a destination job for those in the Sports Information industry.”
No matter how strong, stability at the base does not always translate to the higher level. The past several years have seen tumultuous changes, to say the least, involving turnover almost everywhere. Staff like Tom Jurich, whose legacy remains muddled with amazing growth following by abrupt dismissal, have their torch carried on by capable successors like Vince Tyra.
Any question comparing Jurich to Tyra has no easy answer, including when I ask the man behind the mic. Jurich “recruited” Moth to Louisville from his home state of Colorado.
“You’ve got tremendous shoes to fill but, at the same time, the end of the legacy was not the positive note that maybe people wanted. Who’s to blame? I don’t know. I think that’s up for individual interpretation,” Moth says of Tyra replacing Jurich. “I think (Tyra) has done an amazing job. As an athletic director, judging solely on what he’s done so far, I can’t imagine anybody coming into the situation and doing a better job.”
Moth hands well-deserved credit to Tyra while calling attention to someone else. She made quite the splash when she arrived in Louisville from the University of Kansas.
“You talk about needing to change a culture. The University as a whole was not in a good place. There needed to be change but it needed to be positive change,” Moth says. “I think her ability to usher that in and give full support to Vince in doing what he needs to do…There’s a lot of credit that needs to go to Dr. Neeli Bendapudi.”
Tyra, with Bendapudi’s help, has seen the departure and acquisition of head coaches for several athletics programs. Moth hopes the AD can eventually take a step back and relax.
“Poor Vince, it seems like you can’t turn your head without something else coming up,” Moth says. “My hope for Vince is that he can find a month sometime soon where all he has to do is go to work and not keep plugging holes. I think he looks forward to getting up into the captain’s deck and just guiding the ship.”
Tyra recently plugged a hole with the addition of Scott Satterfield as football head coach. Both Tyra and Bendapudi welcomed Satterfield’s family with open arms, providing Card Nation with an upbeat press conference as an early Christmas present.
While true there is no way to know if Satterfield will actually win, the fervor is certainly growing for Louisville football. I can only hope it leads to more first down conversions for Moth’s sake, who leads the “Cards First Down” chant.
“What may be the most important part of the hire is that, culturally speaking, it’s the change we needed,” Moth says. He refers specifically to a Tweet from early this month showing Satterfield and Co. cleaning the training facility. “That’s a message to the team: We’re all going to get down on our hands and knees, do the little things and the work that needs to be done. While the returns may not come to fruition next season, it’s going to be very soon down the road that we see success.”
Success can already be found right now with men’s and women’s basketball. The men’s team marked Mack’s debut coaching year with a start better than anyone anticipated. Honest enthusiasm is palpable in Moth’s response.
“With this being Chris Mack’s first season, I’m really excited about it,” Moth says. “I love the passion he brings. I love the genuine qualities he brings to the job. I love how active he is on social media. I love what an incredible family man he is.”
In his 20th year announcing men’s basketball, Moth has seen three different coaches and two separate arenas. Our conversation turns to attendance, which has decreased an average of 5,000 people per game compared to the times of Rick Pitino.
“There’s been recent articles about the decline in attendance. I find that a little ironic. There’s a more drastic change than people think nationally in all sports, and cost is definitely part of it,” Moth says. He explains a hypothetical scenario to prove his point.
“If I had told you last week ‘Matt, we’re playing at UNC and I want you to come over. I got a cooler full of beers, wings, a 55-inch 4K flat screen, surround sound. We’re gonna sit and watch the game,'” Moth says. “All these amenities you have watching a game at home can sometimes outweigh the experience as a fan. The battle we have in the industry now isn’t just selling the tickets, it’s making sure that the fans use their tickets because the experience is better than at home.”
Moth holds a unique perspective because he has never missed a game in his 20 years as PA announcer. With zero absences, there’s few apart from him who can attest to the precise changes occurring over time.
Not surprising for a college sports town, Moth tells me that fans are the Cardinal constant.
“The demographic that was here for the Freedom Hall Era twisted into the KFC Yum! Center, and I think that marked a change in Louisville basketball,” Moth says. “It is different. The culture has changed. But at the same time, the one thing that’s been so constant in the tradition with Louisville basketball has been the fans.”
Also constant is the head coach for the women’s side, Jeff Walz. He reached his third Final Four last year and solidified the U of L program as a power in women’s college basketball.
“Martin Clapp had a decent level of success in Conference USA, then Tom Collen took over and had some decent success,” Moth says. “But Jeff has taken it to a whole new level in terms of consistency, in terms of the fan base. That’s been probably the biggest change.”
Suffice to say, a great deal has changed since the early days of women’s basketball on campus. At one time, the team played at venues like Old Cardinal Arena and Manual High School. Moth says if you compare then to now, with Louisville having a top-notch recruiting class for 2019, the amount of growth is evident.
“A lot of coaches that have a long stretch of success, there’s another quality to them and that’s their ability to hire great assistants and/or keep them,” Moth says of Walz, who keeps veterans like Stephanie Norman and Sam Purcell. “If you can build a good staff that you trust, success is going to come. There have been a lot of things that Jeff has done right and, ultimately, I think he has the drive and competitive nature that so many successful coaches have.”
Nearly finished with my list of questions, I ask Moth about his future. John Tong, Moth’s predecessor of 37 years, continues to live on in the hearts of Louisville faithful.
Upon bringing Tong up, Moth knows exactly where I’m going with it.
“I’m not going to make it to 37 (years). I’ll guarantee that right now,” Moth says. “I’m 48-years-old. I don’t know that I see myself doing this until I’m 65, and that’s not to say I don’t love it. I think I would probably try to explore retirement a little before that.”
Moth speaks on his legacy and says he knows he had big shoes to fill back in 1999. He remains remarkably humble about how he filled them, while dishing out a unique fact about Louisville fans.
“The amazing thing about John Tong is that I’ve never met a fan here in Louisville, to this day, that can tell me who did games before he did,” Moth says. “You talk about a legacy. Even if I were here for 37 years, there’s still gonna be tens of thousands of people that will know exactly who did games before I did. It’s a credit to his longevity and the job he did.”
When asked about the thought of putting away the mic to become a full-time fan, Moth provided a candid answer.
“I have no idea what that’s gonna be like. It’s hard to envision,” Moth says. “I’m not a very good fan. I’m spoiled because I sit courtside and in the press box. I definitely look forward to that day. Hopefully somebody that remembers me maybe has me in their suite so I can cheer the team on.”
Fun fact: Out of all 21 varsity athletics at U of L, the only sport Moth has yet to announce for in some way/shape/form is cross country. Twenty down, one to go.
In the meantime, I relive my childhood memories of Moth’s iconic delivery at men’s basketball games. My favorite moment? Whenever graduate guard Khwan Fore drains a three-pointer.
*NOTE: Taquan Dean later changed his name to Taqwa Pinero.
You can follow the Louisville Cardinal on Twitter @thecardsports.
Photos courtesy / U of L Athletics