Column: Slick Rick deserves to be benched during scandal
Rick Pitino vows not to quit.
No surprise there. Slick Rick is set to make more than $50 million over the next decade and has already displayed the remarkable ability to slip through unscathed from the grips of scandal. At this point, he must think his DNA includes a hefty dose of Teflon.
OK, time for a reality check.
There’s no way Pitino should be on the sideline when the Cardinals open the season Nov. 1 against Bellarmine.
A paid suspension or leave is the bare minimum the Hall of Fame coach deserves after an escort said Louisville was essentially running the Bunny Ranch East right in the middle of campus, hiring dancers to strip and dole out sexual favors to recruits and players.
Pitino, in that ol’ tried-and-true defense of every coach overseeing a program gone wild, reacted with disgust, pleaded ignorance and urged everyone to stand aside so investigators could get to the truth of the matter.
”First, above all, I’m sorry we all have to endure the pain of these allegations. I so appreciate your support and friendships,” he wrote in a post to his personal website on Thursday.
Then, Pitino laid down a gauntlet to anyone who might suggest it’s time for him to go.
”I will not resign and let you down,” he pledged to the Louisville faithful. ”Someday I will walk away in celebration of many memorable years but that time is not now. I do not fight these accusations by others but rather turn the other cheek. Couldn’t do it at 33, but at 63 it’s the wise thing to do. Let’s let the investigators do their job and we will play basketball.”
Pitino then went on to give a scouting report on each of his players.
What he conveniently failed to mention was his duty to oversee every aspect of the program, not just what’s happening on the court.
If even a smidgen of these allegations are true – and at least one ex-Louisville recruit, JaQuan Lyle, has reportedly confirmed the gist of them to the NCAA – then Pitino should take the fall. He either knew what former assistant Andre McGee was up to and decided to let it slide, or was so oblivious to the day-to-day workings of the program that he truly didn’t know about the sexual shenanigans (which might be even worse).
Let’s not forget: Pitino has already brought shame to the Cardinals with his actions off the court.
After an extortion attempt by the wife of the school’s equipment manager, Pitino acknowledged under oath to having an extramarital encounter with her in a Louisville restaurant. The embarrassing trial of Karen Cunagin Sypher included allegations – denied by the coach – that he paid $3,000 for an abortion and arranged the marriage as a payoff for her silence. Sypher was convicted and is serving a seven-year sentence at a federal prison in Alabama.
Through it all, Pitino remained a largely revered figure who kept getting big pay raises, was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and guided Louisville to a national title – the first coach in NCAA history to lead two schools to the promised land.
Now, with Louisville facing four different investigations and the possibility of severe sanctions, there are subtle signs that Pitino’s charmed run could be winding down.
The school’s president, James Ramsey, issued a 170-word statement Thursday updating the progress of the investigation and expressing his support for athletic director Tom Jurich, but it was hard to miss the lack of any reference to Pitino.
Boxing great Muhammad Ali, who occasionally attends Louisville football games and has a son who played baseball for the Cardinals, tweeted his support for the school but didn’t mention Pitino or the allegations.
Then on Friday, Pitino announced he was skipping the Atlantic Coast Conference media day because he didn’t want to be a distraction.
Up to now, Louisville has shown little regard for the character of those hired to lead its impressionable young athletes.
Pitino still has a job because he’s one of the best coaches in college basketball history. Bobby Petrino was hired – actually, re-hired – because his brilliant football mind takes precedence over an extensive list of despicable acts away from the field, capped off by that Evel Knievel impression with his mistress along for the ride.
As long as Pitino and Petrino are the two most prominent coaches on campus, it wouldn’t be out of line to call it UofS instead of UofL.
University of Sleaze.
In an interesting bit of timing, McGee announced Friday he was resigning as an assistant coach at Missouri-Kansas City, saying he could no longer do the job as he deals with ”false” allegations. He had already been placed on administrative leave.
Now, his former boss deserves the same treatment.
Pitino should be suspended or placed on administrative leave, whatever they want to call it.
If the program is cleared, he can come back. If not, he’s done. If he wants to quit before it all plays out, so be it.
Maybe this time, Slick Rick will finally face something that sticks.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963