Friedlander: 'Satterfield Bowl' between Louisville and Cincinnati offers plenty of intriguing plot twists
Coaches began opting out of bowl games for better opportunities long before their players began catching onto the idea.
So on one level, there was nothing out of the ordinary when the news of Scott Satterfield’s decision to leave Louisville for Cincinnati broke last week.
Was it surprising? Sure.
But it certainly wasn’t the kind of story that warranted a screaming 96-point headline. At least it wouldn’t have been if not for the circumstances surrounding the transaction.
Because not only are the Cardinals and Bearcats neighboring rivals who once played for a traveling trophy called The Keg of Nails before being broken up by changing conference affiliations, they’re also opponents in an upcoming bowl game.
Saturday’s game at the home of the Boston Red Sox officially is called the Fenway Bowl, for obvious reasons. In this particular case, it should be rebranded as the Satterfield Bowl because of the intrigue created by the coach’s tangled relationships with the participating programs.
It’s a unique arrangement that raises a number of questions. Most of all, inquiring minds want to know how Satterfield plans on handling the situation.
Does he stay loyal to the Louisville players he recruited and coached all season long? Or does he cast them aside in favor of the new group of players he’s inheriting at Cincinnati from new Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell.
You won’t be able to tell by his choice of wardrobe Saturday. Red and white are the primary colors of both teams. They’re also the colors of the flag of Switzerland, which is appropriate since Satterfield has proclaimed his neutrality in this particular conflict.
He said he won’t be anywhere near where his former and future teams are battling it out in Boston.
“This is kind of awkward. That’s why I’m stepping away from anything with bowl prep,” Satterfield said at his introductory press conference with the Bearcats. “I’m going to be hosting families and recruits. Now, we may be sitting in front of a TV and watching it.”
While the parting of ways between Satterfield and the Cardinals was amicable enough on the surface, there might be some underlying hard feelings because of the events that led up to his departure.
Not only did he lose to rival Kentucky for the 3rd straight time, but in the days after finishing a 7-5 regular season, he was denied a contract extension in what can be interpreted as a vote of no confidence.
Rather than sticking around and coaching for his job again during 2023, just as he is believed to have done this year, he decided it best to leave and restart the clock elsewhere.
The fact that his landing spot was a traditional rival and bowl opponent would give Satterfield the perfect opportunity, if he were to be so inclined, to stick it to his former employer.
All he’d have to do is bring a Louisville playbook with him to Cincinnati and drop it off on the desk of interim coach Kerry Coombs, who by the way, is staying on to serve as a member of Satterfield’s staff.
That would only be poetic justice, since it was the Cardinals who benefitted from a similar situation during 2016, known today as WakeyLeaks, when a disgruntled former Wake Forest assistant provided inside intel on the Deacons before a game against Louisville.
But Satterfield is too honorable a man to stoop to that level. Besides, his old team already will be at enough of a disadvantage without any kind of outside interference.
Starting quarterback Malik Cunningham, along with running backs Trevion Cooley and Jalen Mitchell, and cornerback Derrick Edwards are among the group of 9 players who either have opted out or entered the NCAA transfer portal and won’t be available.
Those who are left will be led by a bare-bones crew of coaches.
Because Satterfield took 7 of his 10 assistants with him to Cincinnati, including both coordinators, only 3 full-time staff members remain behind. Deion Branch, Louisville’s director of player development, is the interim man in charge.
The Bearcats (9-3) also will be shorthanded with leading receiver Tyler Scott and tight end Leonard Taylor among those choosing not to play.
Assuming both sides have enough remaining players to field teams and coaches to coach them, Saturday’s matchup will be the first Fenway Bowl that actually will feature a game. The first 2 attempts at playing it were wiped out by COVID-19, including last year’s game in which an outbreak forced Virginia to cancel 3 days before taking on SMU.
In spite of all its handicaps, Louisville is a slight 1-point favorite.
Bowl games in general, however, always are a hit-or-miss proposition and this instance involves more variables than most. Regardless of which team ultimately comes out on top, the biggest winner already is guaranteed.
And he won’t even be at the stadium to see it.