LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Lorenzo Ward walked into Louisville football's team meeting auditorium in the Howard Schnellenberger football complex Monday afternoon, looked around at the gathered media and cameras, smiled and said:
"Y'all waiting for me?"
Yes, Bobby Petrino's not walking through that door any more, having been fired Sunday and barred from the complex. This is Ward's territory now after being named interim head coach in the wake of his old boss's dismissal.
But in his first meeting with the media, Ward -- the former associate head coach/safeties coach -- tried to turn the spotlight away from him and onto the Cardinals (0-8, 0-7 ACC), who have two games remaining, starting with NC State Saturday (12:20 p.m.) in Cardinal Stadium.
"It's not about Coach Ward and him being the interim head coach," he said. "When I spoke with the staff here yesterday, I told them this is not going to be about me, it's going to be about them. It's going to be about what we're going to do for these young men the next two weeks. The bottom line is everything we do has to be about this team. We want to ry to make these next two weeks as much fun as we possibly can."
Of course, it IS about him to a large degree since he will be in charge as the Cards try to snap a seven-game tailspin and then end their first losing season since 1997 on a high note against Kentucky on Nov. 24.
Ward, 51, said that in his 27 years of coaching, this is the fourth time he's been on a staff that lost its head coach. He said he learned of his promotion to interim head coach via a phone call from UofL athletics director Vince Tyra Sunday around noon.
"I was sitting in the car talking to my wife," Ward said. "I get out and this gentleman (WAVE-3 TV anchor Kent Taylor) came up to me and he's like, 'Are you the interim head coach'? I said, 'Not to my knowledge.' I went inside (the complex) and Vince called me and told me what was going on, and that's how I found out."
Since three assistant coaches who where Petrino family members were also fired, Ward has had to restructure the staff. He will take over coaching the defensive line; cornerbacks coach Grady Brown will also coach the safeties; defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will assume control of the linebackers; and co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway will call plays and coach the quarterbacks.
Ward said he believes the players have mixed feelings about the change.
"They're real appreciative of what Coach Petrino has done, but they're happy about seeing some change," Ward said. "When you go through a season and you've lost seven games in a row, everybody thinks you need change."
Asked if he agreed with Tyra's criticism of the Cards' effort and focus this season, Ward replied:
"Not totally. I'm a coach and Vince is looking from his standpoint. Of course, you always can be better, there's no doubt about it. If you're a football player and you think you'e arrived, then you're probably not a very good football player. We can definitely pick up our effort. I think overall the guys have given great effort, but I don't think they've given maximum effort."
Ward, whose nickname is "Whammy," is a favorite of the players and safety Dee Smith explained why.
"Whammy, he gives out a positive attitude all the time, knows how to make people laugh, take the tension off things," Smith says. "And Coach Whammy, when you're in a bad mood he's always gonna make you feel happy because he'll do something silly, or some type of joke and make you feel like a good person. I really like Coach Ward a lot and I think he's gonna be a really good head coach for this next two weeks."
Ward got his nickname as a player under coach Bill Curry at Alabama, where he was named national Special Teams Player of the Year his senior season in 1989.
"We were in spring practice and a guy came across the middle and I hit him fairly hard," Ward recalled. "Coach Curry said, 'You really whammed that guy.' And it took off from there. All the players started calling me 'Whammy.' If you went to Alabama today and asked them how Lorenzo is doing, they'd ask you who you're talking about. If you asked how Whammy is doing, they'll tell you he's at Louisville, hopefully doing a good job."
And he's glad the nickname has followed him here. "Oh yeah, it's a known name," he says. "Because of the way I got it, I appreciate that name."
ROBINSON SAYS FANS GOT THEIR WISH
Redshirt junior nose tackle G.G. Robinson said he was "shocked" at Petrino's firing and indicated that he feels pressure from fans contributed to the change.
"It was only a matter of time," Robinson says. "There was a big unknown cloud over everybody. We were having a bad season and a lot of the fans, it seemed like they wanted it to happen, and it finally happened, so they got what they wanted. Now we've just got to move forward and not dwell on it. Hopefully, they can still be on our side and come out and support us."
Tyra met with the Cards after he fired Petrino, then joined them, and the coaches, for dinner at the complex Sunday night, a gesture that Robinson said the players appreciated.
"It was a good atmosphere," he said. "The coaches never eat with us, but all the coaches ate dinner with us. Even Mr. Tyra was up there, which is big. . .your AD comes to your dinner, that's big. So the atmosphere changed and I feel like everybody has a positive attitude and honestly I just want to go 1-0 this week. That's how I look at it."
BROHM: 'I'M HAPPY WHERE I'M AT'
At his weekly news conference Monday in West Lafayette, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm was asked the inevitable questions about his interest in the coaching vacancy at his alma mater in his hometown and responded predictably.
"I've heard the noise just like everyone else," Brohm said. "Unfortunately, it's important for me to not comment on any speculation right now. I have a job and we've got work to do, and a lot of it."
He added: "When it comes to my hometown, that's where I'm from, that's where I grew up and where I played. I took a lot of pride in doing my part. A lot of special people there we still have relationships with. My family is there. So I want the program to succeed and do well. But right now, I'm happy where I'm at, and I've got a job to do."
Purdue (5-5), which was upset by Minnesota 41-10 Saturday, needs one more win to reach bowl eligibility for the second year in a row under Brohm. The Boilers host Wisconsin Saturday, then close the regular season at arch-rival Indiana on Nov. 24.
Asked if he would be willing to speak with UofL, Brohm said, "I don't want to comment on any speculation."
Brohm also said he has not addressed the situation with his current players.
"I think they trust me and what I'm all about," he said. "Any time things come about, it's a product of how your team is doing and how they're playing. If they've done some good things, this is sometimes going to happen. I get it.
"Trust me, I like where I'm at. There's great people here. We've got great leadership. We've had great fan support. They've given us everything we can ask. We've got players that are hungry. We've got recruits that want to come here. We've got great facilities. And we're trying to improve, and you know what, it's not easy."
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college basketball and football for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.