Louisville officials announced on Wednesday that men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino has been ousted in the wake of the school’s latest scandal.
“Federal prosecutors said 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,” according to a report in Sports Illustrated.
ESPN’s Michael Eaves quoted a source as saying Pitino “knows it’s coming” after he indicated to his staff in a meeting on Wednesday morning that he expected to be fired.
The reason he suspected his job was in jeopardy was that, on Tuesday, the Department of Justice charged 10 people in conjunction with a corruption and fraud scheme and implicated the Cardinals’ program in the illegal payment of a recruit.
Pitino met briefly with the school’s interim president, Greg Postel, and athletic director Tom Jurich late Wednesday morning and when he left, sources said he was clearly emotional. Other sources claim via Twitter posts that when Jurich refused to fire Pitino, both were dismissed.
The school will hold a press conference at 1 p.m. ET, without Pitino or Jurich present.
Pitino had already been suspended for the first five ACC games of this season following an investigation into the program’s high-profile escort case. In addition, the FBI released evidence that a Louisville assistant coach had planned to send $100,000 to the father of an All-American recruit, believed to be freshman forward Brian Bowen.
In 2010, the coach testified in a federal extortion trial involving Karen Sypher, who went to prison after trying to get money and gifts from him in exchange for silence. A married man, Pitino admitted to having sex with the woman in a closed Louisville restaurant in 2003.
In 2015, the NCAA launched an investigation into the sex-for-pay scandal organized by former Louisville assistant coach Andre McGee that could force the Cardinals to forfeit their 2013 national title and dozens of victories. Involvement in the scheme was the reason behind Pitino’s suspension from Louisville’s first five ACC games this season.
Pitino, 65, released a statement after news of the charges was announced Tuesday, saying: “These allegations come as a complete shock to me.”
“If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorneys 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,” he said. “Our fans and supporters deserve better and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable.”
Just three years earlier, Pitino had stated his opposition to the influence athletic shoe companies have in the recruiting process. “What I personally don’t like (is) I can’t recruit a kid because he wears Nike on the AAU circuit,” Pitino said then. “I had never heard of such a thing and it’s happening in our world. Or, he’s on the Adidas circuit, so the Nike schools don’t want him.” Pitino then added it’s a very tough situation to address “because our pockets are lined with their money.”
Following a three-year investigation by the FBI, federal prosecutors announced the charges of fraud and corruption against ten assistant coaches.
Named in the FBI’s report was Adidas representative James Gatto, who worked directly with grassroots and college programs and is accused of paying high school players to go to Adidas-sponsored schools for the benefit of signing with the company at a later time.
In Louisville’s case, the player has been determined to be Bowen, an elite recruit who committed in June, ending a protracted decision process. The indictment suggests Gatto worked with former NBA agent Christian Dawkins and investment advisor Munish Sood to arrange payment to Bowen’s family for his commitment.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York also laid out charges for four college assistant coaches in a Tuesday press conference, saying the scheme is the “dark belly” of college basketball.
Pitino has won two national championships (his first was with Kentucky in 1996), reached seven Final Fours and won 770 career games. He’s in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Since his taking over in the 2001-02 season at Louisville, the Cardinals have had a .744 winning percentage (sixth nationally), 28 NCAA tournament wins (ninth), and three Final Four appearances (tied for sixth).
He was expected to guide what many believe is a top 10 team entering this season, a group led by Deng Adel, Quentin Snider and breakout candidate V.J. King, to go with five-star center Malik Williams. According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, the Cardinals were at 15-1 odds to win the NCAA title before the Pitino news broke, trailing only Duke (6-1), Michigan State (7-1), Kentucky (10-1), Arizona (10-1), North Carolina (12-1) and Kansas (14-1).
Louisville opens the season Oct. 30 against Kentucky Wesleyan.
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