He finally did Friday, ending a 30-year coaching career with a $7 million buyout after weeks of sniping with the athletic director.
It was an about-face from Crum's insistence throughout this season that he would be back next year.
The Hall of Fame coach met with athletic director Tom Jurich on Jan. 25, after Jurich was quoted as saying he could not guarantee Crum would be back. Their strained relationship escalated last week with the release of confidential memos between the two. Louisville president John Shumaker called the release of the memos "not appropriate."
Shumaker denied then that university officials have held secret meetings, talked with boosters about buyouts or contacted other coaches.
In announcing his retirement, Crum hinted Friday that he ended months of speculation about his future in part to preserve the school's damaged image.
"I honestly wish none of that had ever happened," Crum said. "There's no way any kind of division is good for the university. I don't want this to be, nor did I ever want this to be something that could damage the university. Things happen, and sometimes you can't control them."
However, Crum insisted at a news conference attended by Jurich and Shumaker that he was not forced out.
"This is my decision and I feel really good about it," said Crum, who held off tears at times while standing at a podium. "Nobody's pushing me out of here. This is really what I wanted to do. I feel great about it."
Crum's contract ran through the 2002-03 season. A clause required the university to pay Crum $2 million if his employment ended before June 30. Crum will be paid that, plus about $5 million in the next 15 years while serving as "a university consultant," according to Shumaker.
Louisville is 11-18 heading into Saturday's regular-season finale against Memphis, and then the Conference USA tournament at Freedom Hall.
This year's team has only two seniors and six freshmen Crum's youngest team ever. His strong recruiting class for next season included Carlos Hurt, considered one of the best guards in the nation.
The Cardinals are 61-61 in the past four seasons, with an 0-2 record in the NCAA tournament. The program was also hit with sanctions twice in the 1990s, although no violations were directly linked to Crum.
Jurich said he has not set a timetable for hiring a successor.
"We've got to continue to build this program back to where it was," said Jurich. "I don't think anyone is happy with where this program's at. We want to make sure we get his house in order."
Junior Bridgeman, a member of the board of trustees who starred for Crum from 1972-75, said the rift between Crum and Jurich could take time to heal.
"It should've never happened like this," he said. "So many people outside the program have gotten involved and it was disappointing to see this handled this way.
"It's also amazing to me how things turn," Bridgeman said. "Here's a guy who's built this program from the ground up and the speculation just kept getting worse. I didn't like to see it."
Crum has won 674 games, 14th on the career list. The only active Division I basketball coach with more time at one school is Jim Phelan, with 47 years at Mount St. Mary's. He guided the Cardinals to two national championships and six Final Fours. However, the Cardinals haven't returned to the Final Four since winning the 1986 championship.
Crum is only active college coach in the Hall of Fame, and he and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski were the only active coaches with more than one NCAA title. Crum's six Final Fours were second among active coaches to Krzyzewski's eight.
Louisville remained a perennial Top 25 team into the mid-1990s, with seven 20-win seasons from 1987-97. The Cardinals went 26-9 and reached the national quarterfinals in 1997.
Crum passed John Wooden on the all-time victory list this season in Louisville's 86-85 win over UNLV in this year's Maui Classic.
A native of San Fernando, Calif., Crum played for Wooden at UCLA in the 1950s. He graduated in 1958 and served as a graduate assistant coach for Wooden from 1959-61. He coached briefly at Pierce Junior College in Los Angeles, before returning to work for Wooden from 1968-71. The Bruins went 86-4 and won three national championships while Crum was there.
Darrell Griffith, who starred Crum's first national championship squad in 1980, said he talked to Crum before he announced his retirement.
"Any time you have someone with a lot of success step down, it's a sad moment" said Griffith, Louisville's all-time leading scorer. "But he told me he didn't get run off and that was important to me. He decided on his own that it was time."
Crum replaced John Dromo as Louisville's coach in 1971 and the Cardinals reached the Final Four in his first season, losing to UCLA in the semifinals. Louisville returned to the Final Four in 1975 and again in 1980, breaking through for the school's first championship by beating UCLA in the championship game.
The Cardinals won their second championship in Dallas in 1986, beating Duke 72-69 in the title game.
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