LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In a stunning fall from grace, Rick Pitino has “effectively” been fired as head basketball coach at the University of Louisville, following the earlier firing of athletic director Tom Jurich, meaning the two greatest architects of Louisville’s 21st century athletic success are gone.
Interim University President Gregory Postel said Wednesday that both Pitino and Jurich have been placed on “administrative leave” (Pitino unpaid, Jurich paid) pending further review. But sources tell Yahoo Sports that both men interpreted their meetings today with university officials as a de facto termination and do not expect to be retained at the resolution of the situation.
Postel also stated an unnamed student athlete has been withheld from “all NCAA activity.” It’s presumed that athlete is five-star prospect Brian Bowen, who unexpectedly committed to Louisville late last spring.
Postel said he hopes to identify an interim basketball coach and athletic director within 48 hours.
Board of Trustees chairman David Grissom said the board “unanimously” supported the actions taken against Pitino and Jurich. Grissom said he went home last night and told his wife, “you can’t make this up.”
When asked why “administrative leave” and not outright dismissal, Postel said, “This is a typical way that universities deal with a situation where there is an ongoing criminal investigation. The criminal investigation is not complete and individuals at this institution have not been formally charged.” He added that the university is following its “personnel policies and the individual’s contracts.”
Late Wednesday, Pitino released a statement via his attorney, Steve Pence, stating that the university “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. Coach Pitino has, in effect, been fired. The matter will now follow its legal course.”
The statement maintained Pitino’s innocence in the matter, insisting 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 activity that would violate the terms of his contract,” the statement read. “In sum, Coach Pitino has done nothing wrong and there is no evidence to suggestion otherwise. The rush to judgement is regrettable.”
Pitino, the Hall of Fame basketball coach who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 national championship and two other Final Fours, has been effectively forced out after the second major scandal of the past two years enveloped his program. In June, an NCAA investigation culminated in a ruling that forced Louisville to vacate that national title as punishment for a stripper scandal funded by a staffer on behalf of players and recruits. And on Tuesday, an announcement of a federal investigation into massive college basketball corruption ensnared Louisville basketball in a web of potential broken laws and broken NCAA rules.
Jurich, the athletic director who hired Pitino in 2001 as part of a sweeping department upgrade that ultimately earned the school membership in the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference, was also dismissed. The 20-year Louisville AD had backed Pitino through the previous scandal and a personal drama that implicated the coach publicly in an affair with a woman who was sentenced to prison for trying to blackmail Pitino. Jurich also further stretched the program’s ethical credibility by rehiring football coach Bobby Petrino in 2014 after a scandal cost him his job at Arkansas.
Separately, Pitino and Jurich were seen entering the university administration building Wednesday morning. Both left without comment after only a few minutes inside.
The cumulative weight of that baggage became too much for the university to bear.
The latest news revelation comes at a time of increased tension between the university board of trustees and athletic program. In addition to the stripper scandal, trustees have been critical of athletic spending and the general oversight of Jurich — among the most critical being Papa John’s Pizza magnate John Schnatter. The school also was coerced by the city into agreeing to a new lease in July on its debt-saddled downtown basketball arena, the KFC Yum! Center. University officials were sharply criticized for the terms of the original lease, which shifted much of the financial burden to the city and left the arena in danger of defaulting on its huge loans.
If this is the end of the 64-year-old Pitino’s coaching career, it is a shocking demise. The only coach to capture national titles at two different colleges (he also won the 1996 championship at Kentucky) has long been one of the biggest stars and richest men in the sport. Now his legacy has been irrevocably tarnished.
For Jurich, at one point considered the finest athletic director in the country, the comeuppance is similarly dramatic. His work upgrading Louisville into a football power, improving non-revenue sports and increasing student-athlete academic performance has been irrevocably overshadowed.
The FBI investigation revealed Tuesday resulted in the arrests of four college basketball assistant coaches and six other men involved in the sport as representatives of the shoe and apparel company Adidas, or as financial advisers or agents. Nobody at Louisville was charged with a crime and the school was not directly named in the U.S. Attorney’s complaint, but Postel issued a statement Tuesday night acknowledging that the school is under investigation and he acknowledged Wednesday that the FBI had been on campus.
The federal complaint alleges that an Adidas executive conspired to pay $100,000 to the family of a top-ranked national recruit to play at Louisville and to represent Adidas when he turned pro. An unnamed Louisville assistant coach was allegedly involved in discussions of the payments. The recruit is not identified by name but it clearly is Bowen.
The complaint further alleges that an unnamed Cardinals assistant also was present at a Las Vegas hotel meeting in late July to discuss Adidas funneling $150,000 to a second recruit, this one from the class of 2019.
Despite Pitino’s denial of knowledge of any wrongdoing, the university is holding Pitino accountable. As, almost assuredly, the NCAA will do when it gets its turn to delve into a scandal that threatens the viability of college basketball.
Related college basketball coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• FBI probe uncovers massive NCAA corruption scandal
• Dan Wetzel: This is just the tip of a horrible iceberg for NCAA
• How the FBI finally caught the NCAA’s biggest cheaters
• Why those involved in NCAA scandal will flip for FBI