Rick Pitino’s coaching career in college basketball could be over.
Louisville interim president Greg Postel announced Wednesday that Pitino, who spent his youth in Bayville and captained St. Dominic High School’s basketball team during the 1969-70 season, was being placed on unpaid administrative leave.
The announcement came one day after Louisville admitted Pitino’s program was part of a federal investigation into alleged bribery of recruits. Athletic director Tom Jurich was placed on paid administrative leave. Pitino’s attorney, Steve Pence, told the Louisville Courier-Journal on Wednesday that the university had “effectively fired’’ the 65-year-old Pitino.
“I’m more angry than embarrassed,’’ Postel said at a news conference on campus. He said the university’s board of trustees would decide the fates of Pitino and Jurich at a meeting next month.
Although Pitino was not named in the indictment that resulted in the arrest of 10 people — including four assistant coaches at other schools and an adidas executive — a player alleged to have received a payment was enrolled at Louisville. Postel didn’t name the athlete, but said the athlete would not play for Louisville until the investigation is concluded.
Louisville’s men’s basketball program already was on NCAA probation for allegedly employing prostitutes to entice recruits in campus dormitories. Pitino, who denied any knowledge of that situation, was to be suspended for five Atlantic Coast Conference games in the 2017-18 season. Pitino weathered an embarrassing personal situation in 2010 when he testified under oath to having an extramarital affair with the wife of Louisville’s equipment manager.
Pitino’s contract, obtained by Newsday, shows he is signed through the 2026 season. He could lose nearly $40 million in salary and incentives if it is terminated under a “just cause’’ provision. The contract gives Pitino 10 days to request “to be heard’’ if the university seeks a termination.
After the university’s announcement, Pence issued a statement to wdrb.com, a television station in Louisville: “The University of Louisville placed Coach Pitino on indefinite unpaid administrative leave today. It did not give him prior notice of the disciplinary action or an opportunity to be heard, as required by University policy and Coach Pitino’s employment contract . . . The matter will now follow its legal course.
“Coach Pitino stands by his previous statement — and that of the U.S. Attorney’s Office — that named and unnamed people perpetrated a fraudulent scheme on the University and its basketball program. The information disclosed thus far in the investigation is clearly insufficient to implicate Coach Pitino in any type of misconduct or any other activity that would violate the terms of contract. (He) has done nothing wrong and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. The rush to judgment is regrettable. (The) facts will inevitably exonerate him.’’
Postel said the school hopes to have an interim coach in place within 48 hours.
“We will be looking for someone with integrity,” Postel said. “There’s no reason this team can’t have a good season. It is vital for this university to strictly adhere to the NCAA rules and of course federal law. Failure to do that would be a tacit endorsement of criminal behavior.’’
Pitino led Louisville to a national title in 2013. He won his first national championship at Kentucky in 1996. In the NBA, the New York City native coached the Knicks for two seasons and the Celtics for three. But he made his name in college basketball, compiling a 770-271 record in 32 years.
While Pitino was playing for St. Dominic in Oyster Bay, Long Island was a hotbed for Catholic League stars. Brian Mahoney, who played at St. Agnes in Rockville Centre and coached at Manhattan and St. John’s, first knew Pitino in those years.
“It’s a sad day, I think,’’ Mahoney said. “You can’t know everything that’s going on, but as the head coach, you have to oversee everything and have your eyes and ears open to a lot of things. That’s the way it is in real life, isn’t it? I just feel sorry, I always enjoyed watching his teams play, just a terrific, terrific basketball coach.’’
Pat McGunnigle coached Pitino at St. Dominic. “It seems like every time he turns around, there’s something else,’’ McGunnigle said. “I’m absolutely shocked. I’ve known Rick since he was 12 years old. It’s hard to believe the things they say. I just know the young kid that was a great kid.’’
With Jim Baumbach and AP