Breaking the ‘Cardinal Rule’

Published 10:05 am Monday, October 2, 2017

Maybe the cat had reached its nine lives.

Rick Pitino escaped from pro basketball coaching (twice); after his first return he vacated no more vaunted a college hoops program than Kentucky (no thanks to Christian Laettner), and now, after 16 years, he has escaped the University of Louisville Cardinals.

Looking back over a career like that, few could argue the man is one of the most brilliant X’s-and-O’s minds we have in the game.

And up until Wednesday, he was also darn near untouchable off the basketball court as well.

Because Wednesday, Pitino was placed on unpaid administrative leave – sort of a ‘Dead Man Walking’ as far as his employment status is concerned. His lawyer revealing that he was “effectively fired” as head coach of one of the ACC’s most powerful basketball teams.

So much of this is the end result of a two-year stretch where Pitino couldn’t escape the scandals tied to his program. First, it was an extortion case that sprang from his involvement in an extramarital affair; then came the Cardinals’ assistant coach buying strippers and sex workers for underage recruits and members of the team. Then, on Tuesday, the FBI dropped a bombshell, linking a program that was easily identifiable, but not formally named as Louisville, to a recruit, Brian Bowen, who – or whose family – allegedly pocketed $100,000 from shoe titan Adidas to enroll in school there on the banks of the Ohio.

Pitino’s plausible deniability ran out when a member of his staff was recorded by an undercover FBI agent involving himself in the pay-for-play deals, even knowing that the NCAA was considering making the school take down the championship banner that Pitino hung in 2013. That same “undercover agent” is said to have had ties to the UNC football probe from 2010 – you know, the one that’s still going on with what seems to be no end in sight.

According to NCAA testimony, some former Carolina players were reportedly given money by a sports agent. Now we’re hearing that same “agent” is the undercover man in this sting operation that’s brought down all these coaches.

So, where does that leave us with Pitino? Where does the guy who always prided himself with “doing things a little bit differently” go now?

His legacy is tarnished. Permanently. There’s no coming back from this. He has seven years left on a $55 million contract with a reported $44 million buyout, so he will somehow walk away from the game financially set for life.

I’ve heard that there is a chance Pitino could get back into the coaching business, and for the sake of that encyclopedia of basketball knowledge he possesses I hope that’s the case. But Pitino probably hasn’t even considered the possibility of what comes next, and maybe it’s foolish to do so. If someone says they know what he’s thinking a couple of days removed from this bombshell, then they’re don’t know what they’re talking about.

And then there’s still that NCAA investigation to be concluded. Something still has to come from that beyond missing another ACC Basketball Tournament or taking some banners down from the rafters.

And if Pitino thinks it will end quickly, he needs to just call and have a chat with his pal Roy Williams.

The NCAA is not going to leave this alone.

I guess we’ll be seeing you a whole lot on TV coming up this winter, Rick. After all, if there could be redemption through the flat-screen for Bobby Knight and his sins, then Rick Pitino’s resurrection ought to be pretty easy.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.