Louisville puts Rick Pitino on unpaid leave; lawyer says he's 'effectively fired'
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has placed coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich on administrative leave amid a federal bribery investigation.
Interim university President Greg Postel said at a news conference Wednesday that Jurich is on paid leave, while Pitino is on unpaid leave. The coach’s attorney, Steve Spence, told the Courier-Journal that Louisville has “effectively fired” Pitino.
Neither Pitino nor Jurich attended the news conference.
“I’m more angry than embarrassed,” Postel said. “We will be looking for someone with integrity. There’s no reason this team can’t have a good season.
“It is vital for this university to strictly adhere to the NCAA rules and of course federal law. Failure to do that would be a tacit endorsement of criminal behavior.”
Pitino’s exit comes after the school acknowledged on Tuesday that the men’s program is part of a federal investigation into alleged bribery of recruits. The 65-year-old coach was not named in the indictment that resulted in the arrest of 10 people including four assistant coaches at other schools and an Adidas executive.
it is the latest black eye for the Cardinals program. Pitino and Louisville are in the middle of appealing NCAA sanctions handed out in June following an escort scandal that unfolded nearly two years ago, which could cost the school its 2013 national title.
Jurich has supported Pitino through his transgressions during the athletic director’s nearly 20-year tenure at the university.
Pitino, 65, was 416-143 over 16 years at Louisville, including that 2013 NCAA championship.
In the latest investigation, federal prosecutors say at least three top high school recruits were promised payments of as much as $150,000, using money supplied by Adidas, to attend two universities sponsored by the athletic shoe company. Court papers didn’t name the schools but contained enough details to identify one of them as Louisville.
Postel also said Wednesday that one student-athlete has been informed he will not practice or play for the university until investigation is resolved.
“This decision will protect the interests of both the student and the University of Louisville,” Postel said.
Pitino is not named in the federal documents, though the school acknowledged it is under investigation by the FBI.
“These allegations come as a complete shock to me,” the coach said in a statement Tuesday night. “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.”
Louisville was already reeling from the sex scandal. The program has been ordered to vacate up to 123 victories in which ineligible players received improper benefits — a period that includes the 2013 title, its third — along with the 2012 Final Four appearance. The NCAA also placed the school on four years’ probation and ordered the return of money received through conference revenue sharing. McGee received a 10-year, show-cause penalty.
Pitino was ordered to miss five unspecified Atlantic Coast Conference games this season.
The NCAA noted that Cardinal players and recruits had received improper benefits and called the activities in the dorm “repugnant” in its decision.
Pitino is 770-271 over a 32-year coaching career with stops at Hawaii, Boston, Providence and Kentucky, where he won the 1996 NCAA title. He has also coached in the NBA with the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.
But that success has been overshadowed by a recent series of embarrassing episodes that began nearly two years ago with escort Katina Powell’s book allegations that former Cardinals staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers for sex parties with players and recruits in the team’s dormitory.
Powell wrote in “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen” that former Cardinals men’s basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits from 2010-14. Powell said McGee paid her $10,000 for 22 shows with most occurring in the team’s Billy Minardi Hall dormitory named for Pitino’s brother-in-law, who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
Pitino denied knowledge of the activities described in Powell’s book and criticized McGee for his actions.
Before the sex scandal case, Pitino had to testify in 2010 in a federal extortion trial for the wife of the school’s equipment manager, when he acknowledged under oath to having an extramarital affair with her in a Louisville restaurant.
Monday will mark two years since the escort scandal broke and sparked multiple investigations, including one by the school as well as the NCAA. Louisville’s own investigation determined that violations did occur and announced in February 2016 a self-imposed postseason ban along with recruiting restrictions.
Those measures were implemented in hopes of mitigating further discipline by the NCAA, which accepted the self-imposed ban. That didn’t happen. The NCAA’s Committee on Infractions dismissed Pitino’s contention that he was unaware of McGee’s activities and imposed harsher penalties on the program and the coach.
Louisville’s appeal contends that the NCAA overstepped its authority with “draconian” penalties. Pitino called the penalties “unjust and over the top in its severity” when announced on June 15.
Tuesday’s indictment also occurs just over a month since Adidas and Louisville announced a 10-year, $160 million partnership extension through 2028. The sportswear maker has been partnered with the school since 1998.