One of college basketball’s most illustrious coaching careers seemed to come to an ignominious close on Wednesday as Rick Pitino was ousted by the University of Louisville.
“Effective immediately, Coach Pitino has been placed on an unpaid administrative leave,” Louisville’s interim president, Greg Postel, told reporters. “Coach Pitino’s employment will be reviewed at a later date.”
Pitino’s lawyer, Steve Pence, later released a statement in which he said that Pitino, 65, had, “in effect, been fired.”
“Coach Pitino has done nothing wrong and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise,” the statement said. “The rush to judgment is regrettable.”
The move came one day after federal prosecutors accused two unidentified Cardinals coaches of directing money provided by the university’s apparel partner, Adidas, to two high school prospects, and three months after Pitino and his program were sanctioned by the NCAA for a scandal in which prostitutes were provided to players and teenage recruits.
Louisville’s athletic director, Tom Jurich, was placed on paid leave, Postel said, “until the board of trustees has an opportunity to evaluate his continued employment.”
Jurich met with members of the university’s board Wednesday morning but left after only five minutes. Pitino met with the trustees soon after Jurich. His meeting, too, was short; one reporter waiting outside noted that the driver of the vehicle that delivered Pitino did not turn off its engine while he was inside.
On Tuesday evening, Pitino denied any knowledge of, or responsibility for, the accusations detailed in the federal charges, saying in a statement: “These allegations come as a complete shock to me. If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville.”
Pitino was inducted into the basketball hall of fame in 2013, recognition for a four-decade coaching career in college basketball and the NBA. With 770 wins over parts of 32 seasons, Pitino ranks 12th on the Division I career victories list — although that figure could change pending the appeal of the NCAA penalties announced in June. He is also the only college coach to win national titles with two different colleges, Kentucky and Louisville — although that distinction, too, could change if Louisville is forced to vacate its 2013 championship.
The reasons for the potential erasure of dozens of his wins at Louisville, and his second NCAA championship, are allegations, some of which Louisville has accepted, that a former basketball staff member who had played under Pitino hired prostitutes to entertain recruits and players in an on-campus dormitory.
While in that case the NCAA accepted Pitino’s explanation that he had no knowledge of the actions of the assistant found to be responsible, it nonetheless found that he had failed in his broader obligation to monitor his staff. Pitino and Louisville have disputed that conclusion, which led to his suspension, pending appeal, for the first five games of Atlantic Coast Conference play this season.
Tuesday’s federal charges, which also implicated the global marketing director for Adidas basketball, four assistant coaches at other Division I programs and several other men involved in college basketball, detailed a scheme to funnel money to two prospects in order to attend a university whose description matches Louisville, and of doing so with the knowledge of two unidentified coaches at the school. It was not clear whether the man the complaint calls Coach-2, who is characterized as having significant leverage at Adidas (which sponsors Louisville), is Pitino.