By Kyle Caron
How does one define the success of a coach? In the level of players they recruit? The number of wins the accumulate? How many championships they have? Based on these categories, fewer coaches over the last twenty years have been more successful than Rick Pitino, the now ex-head basketball coach of the University of Louisville as of Wednesday morning.
There is no denying that Pitino was one of the greats when it comes to success on the court. After winning a national championship at the University of Kentucky in 1996 he proved that he belonged at the highest level of the sport. He then attempted another go in the pros where he would coach the Boston Celtics for three years. However, after a string of sub .500 seasons in the NBA, Pitino returned to the college ranks where he would remain with Louisville for the remainder of his career. He even managed to tack on another championship to his resume in 2013, making him the first head coach in the history of the sport to win two titles with two different schools.
Of course this all changed in 2017 when that championship was stripped from Pitino and his 2013 Cardinals squad as part of a punishment by the NCAA in response to a recruiting scandal which took place from 2010 to 2014. Basketball recruits who took visits to the campus were bribed with strippers and prostitutes in an on-campus dorm as a way of coercing them to join the Louisville team. There were reportedly upwards of two dozen of these “sex parties” in the student athlete dormitory, paid for and endorsed by then graduate assistant coach Andre McGee which of course violates a plethora of NCAA recruiting rules. And what was Pitino’s response to this controversy? He claimed he had no knowledge of these events. Many members of the press and public called for the firing of the head coach and yet nothing ever came of the situation aside from a post-season ban and some other sanctions handed down by the NCAA. As the scandal slowly blew over one would think that this would be a wakeup call that Pitino needed to take control of his program and ensure that all recruiting practices were ethical. Well according to the reports that came out yesterday, this was clearly not the case.
On September 26, 2017, the FBI arrested assistant coaches from several Division I basketball programs for fraud. While not all of the details have been released yet, it was reported that Adidas, a major sponsor and source of income for the programs involved, offered to pay recruits under the table to attend certain universities. The University of Louisville was of course the most noteworthy institution on that list, due to the fact that it was already on probation for the previous scandal. This created speculation that not only would Pitino be fired, but Louisville would also be handed the NCAA “death penalty” which could result in the cancellation of the next two basketball seasons entirely as well as a significant cut in scholarships and the termination of the whole coaching staff. This would be the first time in almost thirty years that the “death penalty” is implemented; the last time being the SMU football team in the 1980’s which resulted in the collapse of the program and the crippling of their conference financially.
On September 27, just over a day since the arrests were initially made, Pitino was called in to the Louisville president’s conference room. The meeting lasted less than five minutes. Shortly after, it was announced that Rick Pitino, the man who brought the University of Louisville its first championship in decades only four years prior, had been relieved of his duties as head basketball coach. How the program will fare in the wake of this news is unknown, but the future looks bleak. As of the writing of this article, two 5-star commits have already reopened their recruitment. The university’s athletic director, Tom Jurich, was also let go from his position.
Pitino went from giving the university its highest high to its lowest low in less than a decade. For a coach who was so well respected just five years ago, there is no greater shame nor better way to taint your legacy than to be fired while simultaneously destroying your esteemed program for the foreseeable future. In every sense of the phrase, Rick Pitino is a captain going down with his ship; if that captain purposely steered his ship into an iceberg and then claimed he did not see it. With a multitude of scandals on his record, it is unlikely that ex-coach Pitino will ever find work in the basketball world again. As much as I would like to say that this is an unfortunate situation, I cannot in good faith do that. Good riddance Rick Pitino, college basketball is better because of it.