Update: Rick Pitino will not coach another Louisville game. He’s out

One shining moment in 2013. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Update: Louisville has called a press conference for 1 p.m. Various sources are reporting that both Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich have been fired. More soon.

Not many schools would have kept Rick Pitino after he admitted to having sex in a restaurant with a woman he’d just met. (He would testify that the encounter lasted “no more than 15 seconds.”) He was technically the aggrieved party in an extortion case brought by the feds against the woman in question — Karen Sypher was convicted — but still: The most famous man in the commonwealth of Kentucky was humiliated by the experience.

Or should have been. But part of being Rick Pitino is being impervious to real shame. He kept on coaching Louisville after Sex In A Restaurant. More to the point, Louisville allowed him to keep coaching.

He won the 2013 NCAA championship, the title being taken in a dazzling display at the Georgia Dome. That was a happy crusade: The injured Kevin Ware hobbling about on crutches; the Final Four MVP being the sixth man and George Mason transfer Luke Hancock, an actual NCAA champ being built without benefit of a single one-and-done.

Barely two years later, Sex In A Restaurant had yielded to Strippers In The Dorm. Pitino’s defense: It was all the work of one rogue assistant. “I can’t find one person who knew a damn thing about it,” he said in a response to a question posed by yours truly after yet another narrow win over poor Brian Gregory at McCamish Pavilion. (But wasn’t he, you know, the head coach? Never mind.)

Full disclosure: There have been times when I could barely abide the man. When he was coaching Kentucky, I referred to him as “the egomaniac Rick Pitino.” (I’m told he read it and was not amused.) When he got the Louisville job, I mostly cringed — not because he was a bad coach but because I’d grown up a Louisville fan. (My dad graduated from U of L’s dental school.)

I’ve since softened toward him, not because he’s coaching the school for which I used to root but because Little Ricky seemed to have grown up. He used the word “humility” at the Final Four here, a word for which the younger Pitino had no use. He’d left Kentucky to take over the Celtics, where he failed for the first time in a golden career. His brother-in-law died on Sept. 11, 2001. (Indeed, the dorm in which the strippers danced is named for him — Billy Minardi Hall.) And the publicity stemming from Sex In A Restaurant had been no fun, even for the guy who never ducks a photo op.

I liked this Pitino more than I did the younger Pitino, which isn’t to say that his professed outrage over Strippers In The Dorm was convincing. Again: He was the head coach; it’s his program, and his program was so abashed — and Louisville, which also employs Bobby Petrino, isn’t easily abashed — that it removed its team from the 2015 postseason. It’s now on NCAA probation, and Pitino himself is due to serve a five-game suspension in the season ahead.

Provided he makes it that far. Louisville was implicated in the fraud/bribery case brought by the feds Tuesday. Pitino was not charged/arrested. No one who works at Louisville was, at least not yet. But the most jaw-dropping allegation of what could become a watershed moment for college basketball involved — yes, again — Pitino’s program.

According to the feds, representatives of Adidas — Louisville is an Adidas school — paid recruit Brian Bowen $100,000 to sign with the Cardinals and commit to wearing Adidas shoes as a professional. The Courier-Journal characterized Bowen’s June commitment as a “surprise.” Pitino said in a subsequent interview that Louisville “spent zero dollars recruiting a 5-star athlete … In my 40 years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve ever been.” (Famous last words?)

On cue, Pitino’s reaction to the charge plucked the customary strings. “These allegations come as a complete surprise to me,” he offered, which left us where we came in: Once again, we’re asked to believe that Pitino — masterful coach, control freak of long standing — knows nothing about anything bad.

We note again: Louisville is on probation. Its appeal to the NCAA to keep from having the 2013 NCAA title vacated is pending. There’s a chance — not a great one, given the NCAA’s dithering ways, but a chance — that this tent-pole program could face the death penalty. (Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports, who lives in Louisville, advocated as much.) And the Pitino response? “Don’t look at me, folks. I just work here.”

Late Tuesday, Terry Meiners of WHAS Radio tweeted: “Attorney (meaning Pitino’s) says facts are ugly but he promises ‘a bare-knuckle fight’ if U of L tries to fire Rick Pitino.”

Pitino turned 65 this month. He’s in the Hall of Fame. He’s the only coach to win championships at two schools. On the collegiate court, he has accomplished all there is to accomplish. And yet: His legacy (to use a word I loathe) lies in tatters. He could have been fired after Sex In A Restaurant. He should have been fired after Strippers In The Dorm. Unless these allegations are proved to be without substance — and it’s hard to imagine they will, given that the feds and confidential informers and undercover agents are involved — he has to go now.

The reason I used the word “egomaniac” to describe Pitino all those years ago was that he arrived in Lexington — full disclosure: I’m a UK grad and I worked at the Herald-Leader covering the Wildcats — acting as if he’d founded the program. Believe it or not, Kentucky was winning NCAA titles before he was born. Nor was Louisville an expansion team: Indeed, Denny Crum took twice as many national championships as Little Ricky has.

If Pitino tries to dig in his heels yet again, Louisville might well be dealt sanctions of the sort that raze a program. Alas, he never seems to grasp that there’s anything to a program beyond … well, him. Except when it comes to malfeasance. Then it’s never him.

This time it has to be him. This time, finally. For the good of his university, Rick Pitino must be the first to go.

Reader Comments 0

16 comments
Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

Looks like it is all about the Shoes. Adidas trying to kick the door open in the basketball shoes biz. Nike uses AAU coaches in the same way and also directly pays college football and basketball coaches to have their athletes wear Nike shoes and apparel. I guess the Bowen kid wanted his share of the Shoe money upfront before his one and done at Louisville. Just surprised it took this long for a shoe company to go directly to the talent(players) and bypass the coaches.

Maybe the effect of this scandal will be the end of the ludacris one and done in NCAA basketball. Let high school kids go directly to the NBA or NFL for that matter ,but if a kid chooses college it is at least a 2 or 3 year commitment.

TideDawg
TideDawg

2017, The year of Scandal. All of this kind of garbage comes to light about every 8-10 years. You mean to tell me that the NCAA and FBI didn't know about this before now? Right! The NCAA doesn't want this kind of scandal to come up every year or every other year. It would damage college sports and universities. They know but they hold off on exposing it for several years to protect the bottom line. Every college coach operates in the gray area and when they feel safe they cross the line. They get caught so the NCAA puts on the act of "investigating" the charges, and this investigation lasts 2-3-4 years, which is plenty of time for coaches and colleges to protect themselves financially. Other colleges hear about the possibility of  something going on and start locking down the hatches on their own program. By the way......this is strictly my opinion and I don't have any facts to back it up. But, remember SMU, Baylor, Southern Cal.,Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss. etc. Keep this in mind.....If you have a secret, and somebody else knows that secret......YOU'RE CAUGHT.

DS
DS

Wow, Bradley's really sticking pins in his Rick Pitino doll here. It seems weird to read this diatribe from Bradley against Pitino, dragging out every skeleton in the closet.

I'd rather read about what's going on in this particular case against Pitino, Louisville AD Jurich, and representatives of the Adidas shoe company without Bradley foaming at the mouth about all this other stuff. Guess I have to go over to ESPN to get the facts of the story without all the preaching and raw hatred.

HermanKrieger
HermanKrieger

Another look at college sports-
"Hirer Education"
www.efn.org/~hkrieger/sport.htm


BTC
BTC

Kind of like Trump - denies everything and thinks he is above any repercussions from any behavior.

bobbyross1990
bobbyross1990

@BTC  This is sports, not politics. Troll somewhere else, liberal.

JKToole
JKToole

@bobbyross1990 @BTC Is President D-bag involving himself in sports? Including the firing of players and trying to enforce his own faux, moral code onto the presentation of the games, Goon?

JKToole
JKToole

@bobbyross1990 @BTC  What was Obama's approval rating his first year in office? What was it when he left? What is Trump's approval rating 9 months in?

What is your point? That you're alone in your thinking?

Michael N
Michael N

I agree that he should be gone, but I actually believe him when he says he didn't know. His ignorance is intentional. He's like a mob boss that hires fiercely loyal lieutenants that are willing to do all of his dirty work for him without his participation or knowledge. And when they inevitably get caught, they fall on the sword for him, while he quietly cares for their families after they're put behind bars.

JKToole
JKToole

@Michael N I call bullshlt. Micromanagers like Pitino know exactly what is going on in their programs. He insulates himself with fiercely loyal lieutenants who are willing to take the fall in exchange for the glory if they aren't caught.