LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The most important call of Steve Kragthorpe's young career as Louisville's coach came only moments into the job.
The timetable was fitting given the whirlwind of news coming out of Louisville in the days following the Jan. 2 Orange Bowl win over ACC champion Wake Forest.
Former coach Bobby Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Jan. 7. Kragthorpe, who just finished an 8-5 season at Tulsa, met with Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich the next evening in Oklahoma City.
"About five minutes" after accepting the job, Kragthorpe called his new star quarterback - Brian Brohm.
Brohm was only days removed from leading the Cardinals to a 12-1 season while passing for 3,049 yards and 16 touchdowns in 11 games.
Harry Douglas is just one of the Louisville passing game's many options.
Making Brohm's decision to return easier is the glut of options in his receiving corps.
Louisville's top three receivers - Harry Douglas, Mario Urrutia and tight end Gary Barnidge - return. Last season they combined for 159 catches and 2,749 receiving yards.
The 5-foot-11 Douglas might not match the 6-foot-6 Urrutia in stature, but he was one of Louisville's top players during the spring.
He led the Cardinals with 80 catches for 1,256 yards as a junior last year, and followed that with eight catches for 137 yards in the spring game.
Beyond Douglas, Urrutia and Barnidge, Louisville is still looking for another target in the passing game. Among those who could grab some hotly contested playing time are Patrick Carter, Chris Vaughn, JaJuan Spillman and 6-foot-8 freshman Josh Chichester.
"There's a good battle going on for who's going to get playing time after those receivers," Brohm said. "They've all kind of stepped it up."
- David Fox
Kragthorpe said he didn't call to talk the junior out of going to the NFL Draft, where Brohm would have been mentioned with LSU's JaMarcus Russell and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn as the top quarterbacks available.
"I wanted to make sure that I got to him and reassured him that I was excited to come to Louisville," Kragthorpe said. "I wanted to let him know he was a big priority for me as far as showing him what we could do to showcase his talents, not necessarily to talk him into staying. I wanted him to make that decision on his own."
Brohm met Kragthorpe at the airport when he arrived in Louisville two days after he accepted the job. After Kragthorpe met with recruits on their official visits that weekend, he took Brohm through a film session, showing the quarterback the ins and outs the spread offense that carried Tulsa to a 29-22 record and three bowl games in Kragthorpe's four seasons there.
As Kragthorpe met with recruits on Sunday morning, Brohm committed to staying at Louisville for his senior season.
"You never know with a new coach coming in if he wants to start anew," Brohm said. "He told me I was important and wanted me to be a part of his first year here. ... There were a lot of cons to leaving and cons to both. What it came down to was what I wanted to do – play my senior year. Things were in place where I felt comfortable coming back."
In addition to Brohm, top receivers Harry Douglas and Mario Urrutia decided to return. However, running back Michael Bush - who missed all but the first game of the season - declared for the draft.
The mix should give Louisville's new coaching staff plenty of standouts in the passing game. The Cardinals' offense has been one of the nation's most successful over the last four seasons. Under Petrino, Louisville was among the top 10 in total offense in each of the last four seasons and in the top four in scoring the last three.
Where Petrino stressed balance and a power running game, Kragthorpe isn't afraid to spread the wealth in the passing game. That should mean plenty of action for Douglas, Urrutia, the running backs and tight ends.
"We do have some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball," Kragthorpe said. "They have the ability to stretch the field vertically and also create some seams to run the football because of the speed we possess on the outside."
The Cardinals showcased some of that high-flying passing attack in Friday's spring game. Louisville threw the ball 73 times to 22 rushes.
Brohm picked up the offense well during the spring, Kragthorpe said. However, the standout QB threw four interceptions in the final scrimmage. He has thrown multiple interceptions in a game only once in his career.
In the spring game, Brohm was 23 of 34 for 313 yards and three touchdowns. Douglas and Urrutia combined for 13 catches for 205 yards and two touchdowns.
"You can always get better in every offense, but right now we have a good understanding of what we're trying to accomplish out there," Brohm said two days before the spring game. "We're starting to get into a rhythm of how (new offensive coordinator Charlie Stubbs) calls the plays during the scrimmages. He's starting to get a feel of what plays I like to run as well."
They have the ability to stretch the field vertically and also create some seams to run the football because of the speed we possess on the outside.
— Steve Kragthorpe on the Louisville offense
By the time the Aug. 30 opener against Murray State rolls around, Louisville will likely have more balance in its offense than it showed in the spring game. Kragthrope ran the ball 57 percent of the time last season at Tulsa. The Cardinals return George Stripling (459 rushing yards, five touchdowns) and bruising sophomore Anthony Allen (406 yards, 13 touchdowns).
But the key to the offense will be the experience of Brohm, who missed two games last year because of a knee injury and had minor surgery on his non-throwing shoulder in January.
He's the last of the Brohm family to play at Louisville, and one of three still in the program.
His brother Jeff was Louisville's team MVP as a quarterback in 1992 and '93, and is on the staff as passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Another brother, Greg, was a wide receiver for the Cardinals from 1988-92 and is now the director of football operations. Their father Oscar also played quarterback for the Cardinals.
With Petrino gone and Brohm to follow at the end of the year, it's a critical season for Louisville. The Cardinals hope to contend for the Big East championship and another BCS bowl bid.
"This is a big year," Brohm said. "We obviously have a lot of talent here. A lot of guys are seniors. We have high expectations. We hope to use our experience to our advantage."
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.