The Tragic End of the Rick Pitino Era

Coach Rick Pitino has been fired from Louisville
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

(Updated 9/27/17 at 1:26pm following UofL’s official press conference)

Just two weeks ago, I was talking with a co-worker, a fellow Louisville basketball fan, about the promise of the upcoming season and the future.  Landing Brian Bowen was stunning, especially so late into the summer, and with Bowen joining a roster with experienced players such as Quentin Snider, Ray Spalding, Deng Adel, an exciting freshmen class, and promising sophomore VJ King, the Cardinals looked like they could be the real deal and maybe even make a surprise run in March.  This summer, Cards fans gobbled up Anfernee Simons highlights and were counting the days until he officially wore the red and black and ushered in an era where UofL was a basketball powerhouse and a perennial contender.  I just purchased my tickets to one of the two annual red/white scrimmages at the KFC Yum! Center to get a glimpse of what could be a special team.  This would be my first trek to Louisville, about an hour’s drive from Lexington, to see my beloved Cardinals in action on their home floor.  The excitement was real and this team felt like they could be something under the tutelage of Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino.

Then yesterday morning, around 9am, the bomb dropped on college athletics. Four assistant coaches and multiple Adidas executives were arrested by the FBI on charges of fraud and corruption.  ESPN has chronicled more in depth here.  When the initial documents started leaking on Twitter, it was easy to read between the lines: One of the focal points was Louisville and Brian Bowen.  Apparently, this wasn’t a miracle as Pitino had suggested earlier this summer.  Something more sinister was happening and apparently happened a little more than a month after Louisville was placed on probation for four years for their sex scandal.  Louisville placed Athletic Director Tom Jurich and Pitino on administrative leave.  They stated in a press conference earlier today that they expect to name an interim AD and coach in the next 48 hours.

Pitino’s firing seems inevitable.  You can play the, “I didn’t know” card once, but twice?  That’s incompetent.  There’s no way he could remain basketball coach at the University of Louisville.  It’s fair to wonder if he will ever coach again?  Has his reputation been tarnished?  Does this erase everything he’s ever done in college basketball – and make no mistake, he’s one of the finest college basketball coaches ever – but will he ever be remembered for anything other than these scandals?  It’s a tragedy.  Pitino’s run at Louisville has been nothing short of impressive: 1 National Title (2013), 3 Final Four appearances, 28 NCAA tournament wins, and a .744 winning percentage overall.  But all of that will be forgotten in the wake of two massive scandals that threaten to bring down a proud basketball powerhouse.

I sincerely hope not.  Pitino deserves to be remembered as a great coach, but any criticism he receives at this point is fair.  Two major scandals in two years is a catastrophe for anyone and he deserves the fallout.  For UofL, we’ll begin to see the ramifications in the coming weeks.  Will more players be ruled ineligible like Brian Bowen will almost certainly be?  Will players transfer if stiff penalties are handed down by the NCAA?  Anfernee Simons just announced on Twitter that he is decommitting from the University of Louisville and will look for a new school. Will others follow? Who will coach this team?  Who will WANT to coach this team?  So many questions and unfortunately, so few answers at this point.  We went from pipe dreams of a possible NCAA title this season to the disgrace of one of the greatest coaches ever in the sport and the possible death sentence being handed out to a program that was thriving and alive in one of the best arenas in the nation.  It’s like those Snickers commercials say, “Life comes at you fast.”  Too fast…and too slow at the same time.  It’ll be a while before the Louisville Men’s Basketball program is relevant.  What a tragedy.

Brandon Pence is the founder of  B2 Hoops, the author of “The Bulls Outsider,” and the founder/editor emeritus of “The Bulls Charge.”  Follow B2 Hoops on Twitter and Facebook.

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