Louisville fires athletic director; signs indicate Rick Pitino will be next

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Late Wednesday morning the University of Louisville fired athletic director Tom Jurich amid a massive scandal that ensnared the university’s basketball program, sources told Yahoo Sports, and signs indicate that by afternoon head basketball coach Rick Pitino will be fired, as well.

Sources say a team meeting has been scheduled for 12:30 ET. Interim University of Louisville President Greg Postel has scheduled a 1 p.m. ET news conference, which he said neither Pitino nor Jurich will attend.

Pitino, the Hall of Fame basketball coach who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 national championship and two other Final Fours, is expected to be fired 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.

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Wednesday morning Pitino was seen walking alone into the University of Louisville administration building. He exited about five minutes later.

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 fired late Wednesday morning, sources told Yahoo Sports. Like Pitino, Jurich was seen walking into the University of Louisville administration building alone Wednesday morning. He exited about 10 minutes later without comment. 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.

Postel sent an email late Wednesday morning, canceling a previously scheduled meeting of the school’s board of overseers.

The cumulative weight of that baggage appears to have become too much for the university to bear.

Rick Pitino became head coach at Louisville in 2001. (AP)
Rick Pitino became head coach at Louisville in 2001. (AP)

This latest scandal comes at a time of increased tension between the university board of trustees and the 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.

But all of that is dwarfed by the magnitude of bombshell dropped Tuesday by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

If this is the end of the 65-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 is in danger of becoming 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 on 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 acknowledging that the school is under investigation.

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 five-star prospect Brian Bowen, who unexpectedly committed to Louisville late last spring.

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.

“These allegations come as a complete shock to me,” Pitino said in a statement released late Tuesday by his attorney, Steve Pence. “If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville. Our fans and supporters deserve better and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable.”

Ultimately, the university is holding both Pitino and Jurich 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.

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