Ari Wolfe served as the University of Louisville’s football and basketball play-by-play broadcaster from 2005 until 2009. Just as fans do with referees, they often unjustifiably degrade the announcers calling the game. Unfortunately, Ari Wolfe received some criticism during his tenure at U of L, and a lot of that was at the hands of this website. We poked fun at Wolfe because it was the easy thing to do and then he called us out on it. After exchanging some e-mails, we realized that we both shared one passion. A passion for college athletics. We were lucky enough to sit down with him and discuss the NCAA Tournament, his time in Louisville and his career in general.
Wolfe, a Southern Cal graduate, has also spent time with the Philadelphia Soul, Albany Firebirds and the Minnesota Vikings. He is currently calling games for both the Mountain West and Big Ten Conference.
nickev: Ari, first off we would like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us.
nickev: There is always a lot of discussion involving the last few bubble teams to make the NCAA tournament. Are there any selections, or non-selections, that really caught your attention?
Ari Wolfe: I am still in a state of shock that San Diego State won the MWC title, beating New Mexico and UNLV, and got a #11 seed. I totally disagree with that. I think they warranted a seed of eight or nine.
nickev: Are there any higher seeds that you could see making a deep run into the tournament?
Ari Wolfe: I rarely am in the prediction business. As a play-by-play announcer we usually make the analysts make these calls. I do have Siena and San Diego State in the Sweet 16.
nickev: Minnesota was clearly one of the last teams to get in the tourney, while Illinois was left on the outside looking in. Which of these teams do you think is more deserving, or do you believe that both, or neither, should have received an invite?
Ari Wolfe: I think both should have been left out. Illinois was too inconsistent with too many losses to get in. I believe that Minnesota was helped by all of the early success of the Big Ten and the NCAA wanted to recognize the overall strength of the Big Ten.
nickev: Many believed that Michigan State should have received higher than a 5-seed. This is a team that is coming off of an appearance in the National Championship and still has Kalin Lucus and Tom Izzo, one of the best tournament coaches in the field. Do you think Bill Self and the Jayhawks have reason to be concerned if they face off in the Sweet 16?
Ari Wolfe: Yes, the should be very concerned. MSU is a tough team with a determined head coach. Could be the best match-up in the Sweet 16.
nickev: The Mountain West Conference has four teams in this year’s dance (UNLV, BYU, New Mexico, San Diego State), which is the most in it’s 11-year history. The MWC has really struggled in past NCAA tournaments. Do you think they will have more success this season? What team is most likely to make a run? What MWC player is most likely to make an impact in the tourney?
Ari Wolfe: It was my first year covering the MWC and I was extremely impressed. New Mexico can make a run. Darington Hobson is the best player that no one knows outside of the MWC. BYU really needs a win in the tournament. The Cougars have a wonderful head coach in Dave Rose, who overcame pancreatic cancer last summer. They have not won a game under Rose in the tournament, but they won’t let their coach down this time. I am not guaranteeing a trip to Sweet 16, but they will beat Florida in the first round.
nickev: I’m sure you have done your best to keep up with the ‘Cards this season despite not calling their games. What do you think are the reasons for their inconsistencies? What do they have to do to make a run in the tournament?
Ari Wolfe: Very difficult for me to judge because I only saw them play three times. This team lacks on-court leadership. I love Edgar Sosa, but when your point guard is inconsistent, it creates a lot uncertainty for the whole team. They have a bunch of good players, but no one that really scares people. They need maximum effort and they have one thing that the rest of the team’s don’t have. Rick Pitino. He is a winner in March, period.
nickev: Many so-called analysts are predicting Kentucky to fall before they get out of the East Region because of their inexperience. Do you think their inexperience will prevent them from getting to Indianapolis?
Ari Wolfe: No, I don’t. I think youth and bravado can be a good thing at this time of year. If you are unaware of all of the pressure, you can just play. Calipari is another terrific tournament coach. I have the Cats in the Final Four.
nickev: Other than Kentucky, who else do you have in your Final Four and who is your eventual champion?
Ari Wolfe: So far I have picked three of the four regions. I cannot for some reason, find a team that I like in the West. Kansas vs. ?, Kentucky vs. Villanova. Villanova wins it all.
nickev: In their regular season finale, Louisville upset Syracuse in the last game in the history of Freedom Hall. What is your fondest Freedom Hall memory?
Ari Wolfe: My first game there. I was completely thrilled that I was going to be the TV play-by-play announcer for the Louisville Cardinals in Freedom Hall. Way beyond my early dreams of being an announcer. Best game I called there is easy, it was 2006 vs. Marquette. The place was buzzing from the opening tip. The game went to overtime on Dominic James’s desperation 3, with the Cards eventually winning in overtime. Awesome. Working with Bob Valvano was really fun. It took us a few games to gel, but eventually working together was one of the highlights of my time in Louisville. One other note, Kenny Klein will go down as the best person I met during my time in the ‘Ville. Classy guy. I miss Kenny.
nickev: You hosted both Rick Pitino and Steve Kragthorpe’s shows. What is your impression of these two coaches, who at least in the public’s eye are at the complete opposite ends of the success totem pole?
Ari Wolfe: Steve got some very bad advice early on with dealing with the local media and fans. He was on the defensive from almost day one. The University told everyone that he would be the opposite of Bobby Petrino and be very media friendly. That changed almost immediately. He had an us against the world mentality and it really hurt him and the entire program. Steve is a great guy and is almost universally liked in the NFL. Maybe that is where he belongs. As for Coach Pitino, he was always fair with me. I would have liked to have more of a relationship with him, but that wasn’t the case. I admire his success and I wish him and the Cards future success.
nickev: You won an Emmy award for your time spent here in Louisville. Where does this rank on your list of accomplishments, and what is your finest achievement to date?
Ari Wolfe: As a play-by-play announcer, I never thought once about winning an emmy. I did not even know that there was a category for announcers. All the credit goes to WHAS-11′s Debbie Harbsmeier. She submitted the entry and I was fortunate to win. It does not rank very high on my list of accomplishments. I am most proud of the fact that I can earn a living doing something that I love. I get to be a part of sports history all of the time. It never gets old. Best moment of my career was the Albany Firebirds winning the title in 1999. Best group of people that I have ever been around. I still think about those guys all the time.
nickev: Speaking of the Firebirds, in a 2008 interview you listed the AFL’s Albany Firebirds’ coach Mike Dailey as one of your mentors. Who are some other people who have had an impact on your career?
Ari Wolfe: My mother is my biggest influence. She followed her own path to being a very successful professor at the University of Wisconsin and she always supported my dreams of being an announcer. Best Mom ever. I admire guys who do their homework and don’t rest of their athletic accomplishments. Two guys from the NFL Network that represent those values are Mike Mayock and Charles Davis. Hard workers and better people.
nickev: What was it like to work for Jon Bon Jovi?
Ari Wolfe: It was amazing. He was not only the owner, but a huge fan. He regularly listened to our broadcasts when he was on the road and told me once that I was his father’s all-time favorite announcer. Gave me a feeling of job security rarely felt in broadcasting.
nickev: Once again we really appreciate the opportunity to sit down and talk with you. We wish you the best of luck and hope to sit down and talk with you soon.