If you examine big moments in UofL athletics history, you’re pretty likely to find a Tyra. Just perhaps not the one you think of first.
The late Charlie Tyra, UofL basketball’s first All-American, was responsible for many of those big moments. But if you look closer, especially in recent Cardinal history, you’ll see that Vince Tyra was there.
He was in Freedom Hall in 2010 when Louisville basketball played its final game there and sophomore Kyle Kuric’s 22 points led to a win over Syracuse, the No. 1 team in the country. Tyra and his son, Cooper, were in St. Petersburg, Florida, for then head coach Charlie Strong’s first bowl game, the 2010 Beef O’Brady’s bowl where the Cardinals beat Southern Miss 31-28. It remains Cooper’s favorite bowl game to this day.
Tyra was in St. Louis in 2009 with his mother and niece when Angel McCoughtry and Louisville’s women made their first trip ever to a Final Four. He was in New Orleans for the men’s basketball 2012 Final Four and in Atlanta for the 2013 national championship. He was in Omaha last year for the baseball team’s fourth appearance in the College World Series.
“It’s just been deep in our blood, this whole Louisville thing,” he said.
“This whole Louisville thing” is now Tyra’s official job. Charlie Tyra, the All-American father, is one of the most famous figures of Louisville’s past, but it’s the son, Vince, who now leads the future of Cardinal athletics.
When he was named athletic director in May, Tyra took over a program that had grown tremendously over the previous decade — inclusion in the ACC, facility expansions, national champions in swimming, track and field and more. But the past couple years brought a few bumps that got UofL Athletics off track.
Tyra’s fandom never wavered, of course, through the successes and the turbulence. The former baseball star knew he could step up to the plate when UofL needed a hit — and a captain. His experience as a student athlete, his accomplishments as a businessman and his die-hard support of UofL are an undeniably good combination.
“In the situation our athletics department was in, we needed more than just someone doing the job, but someone who has a true understanding of what UofL athletics is truly about,” said Mark Becker, head women’s tennis coach after Tyra’s hire. “I am from Louisville and am someone who bleeds UofL red, so I am ecstatic that we have someone who is a real UofL fan leading our department.”
Being a Cardinal is something special, and Tyra tries to share that with those he works with today. “As I talk to teams and our coaches and our student athletes, I point them to our logo, and I point to the teeth,” he said. “We’re competitive, we’re fierce, we’re hard-working. All those things that we resemble are in that logo, that teeth of the bird. We are unique.”
As the state’s top high school baseball player, he chose to play his college career at the University of Kentucky. Even in a sea of blue, Tyra was there in Cardinal red. “The truth be told, while I was at Kentucky, if there were other games besides baseball being played I was cheering for Louisville. I caught grief while I was playing there for being a fan of Louisville,” Tyra said.
His time as a college player gave Tyra the tools necessary to work hard for the student athletes he interacts with today. Yes, he wants to get Louisville athletics at the top of its game, but more importantly, he wants to support the students.
“The student-athlete experience is what I’m after,” he said. “I want these kids to leave here after their time on campus either hating having to leave or sad to go. That’s up to all the coaches and staff to be good stewards and surrogate parents so that they have a terrific student athlete experience — emotionally, physically, competitively.”
So, much more often than the big moments and the chaos that comes with an elite NCAA program, Tyra can be found there — among the everyday lives of the UofL community.
“I don’t view myself as just the athletic director,” he said. “I view myself as a leader on campus, whether that’s with the students, the faculty, the alumni, the SGA, our Board of Trustees, or our ULAA board. I can provide leadership outside of what I’m tagged with as a title.”
Still, the title of athletic director is one that this lifelong Cardinal wears with pride. After all, “I’m a Louisville kid,” he said.
And wherever there’s a crowd of fellow “Louisville kids” cheering on the Cardinals, rest assured, Tyra will be there.