Louisville Coach Fired After Corruption Scandal

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Louisville men’s basketball head coach Rick Pitino has been placed on unpaid administrative leave, interim president Greg Postel announced Wednesday.

Athletic director Tom Jurich has been placed on paid administrative leave, Postel said at a news conference.

The news comes after the program was linked to a federal investigation into fraud and corruption in recruiting.

Postel said the school will work quickly to name an interim coach and athletic director, possibly within 48 hours. The status of the coaching staff will be decided by the interim coach, Postel said.

“I’m more angry than embarrassed,” Postel said at the news conference. “We will be looking for someone with integrity. … There’s no reason this team can’t have a good season.”

Trouble has followed Rick Pitino nearly from the moment he started as a coach. All along, he said it wasn’t him, pushing the blame onto someone else, sidestepping issue after issue to keep his job. That all changed Wednesday.

The school’s board of trustees was unanimous in supporting the moves, according to chairman J. David Grissom, who also attended the news conference.

The trustees will make the final decision on Jurich and Pitino no later than their next scheduled meeting on Oct. 18, Postel said.

“It is vital for this university to strictly adhere to the NCAA rules and, of course, federal law,” he said. “Failure to do that would be a tacit endorsement of criminal behavior.”

A statement sent later Wednesday by Pitino’s attorneys noted that Pitino had “in effect, been fired.”

“The information disclosed thus far in the investigation is clearly insufficient to implicate Coach Pitino in any type of misconduct or other activity that would violate the terms of his contract,” the statement read in part. “In sum, Coach Pitino has done nothing wrong and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

“Moving forward, Coach Pitino’s primary concern is for the well-being of the student-athletes on the University’s basketball team, and in getting complete and accurate facts in the ongoing investigation. Those facts will inevitably exonerate him.”

Pitino is represented by Steve Pence, Kurt Scharfenberger and Bryan Cassis.

Jurich and Pitino met Wednesday morning with Postel and Grissom, when they were informed of the decision.

According to his contract, Pitino must be given 10 days’ notice before any firing can be official.

On Tuesday, 10 men — including a top Adidas executive and four college assistant coaches — were charged with using hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to influence star athletes’ choice of schools, shoe sponsors, agents, even tailors. 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.

Postel later confirmed that Louisville is part of the investigation. It marked the latest case of Pitino and his Louisville program being in the news for impropriety.

Tom Jurich brought Rick Pitino to Louisville; now they could be leaving together amid scandal. AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

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. The married Pitino admitted to having sex with the woman in a closed Louisville restaurant in 2003.

In 2015, the NCAA launched an investigation into a sex-for-pay scandal organized by former Louisville assistant coach Andre McGee that could force the Cardinals to vacate their 2013 national title and dozens of victories. For that, Pitino would have been suspended for Louisville’s first five ACC games this season. That all came after the school, hoping to soothe the NCAA and temper the sanctions, self-imposed a 2016 NCAA tournament ban.

But Tuesday’s news revealed much broader potential issues.

After a three-year investigation by the FBI, federal prosecutors announced charges of fraud and corruption against 10 men associated with college basketball: assistant coaches Chuck Person (Auburn), Lamont Evans (Oklahoma State), Emanuel “Book” Richardson (Arizona) and Tony Bland (Southern California); James Gatto, director of global sports marketing for Adidas; Merl Code, another Adidas employee; Christian Dawkins, a former NBA agent who was recently fired from ASM Sports; Munish Sood, a financial adviser; Jonathan Brad Augustine, president of The League Initiative and program director of the Adidas-sponsored 1 Family AAU program; and Rashan Michel, a former NBA official who founded Thompson Bespoke Clothing, a custom clothier for athletes.

The allegations against the unnamed school in Kentucky — later identified as Louisville — include payments of $100,000 from Adidas to the family of an unnamed player, identified as “Player-10,” to ensure he signs with the school.

According to the complaint, Gatto, Code, Dawkins and Sood worked together to funnel $100,000 to the player’s family in early June, and Dawkins told the others that he did so at the request of a Louisville coach. “Player-10,” is described in the complaint as a top recruit, and ESPN has identified the recruit as Brian Bowen, a five-star guard/forward who signed with Louisville on June 5. The FBI said telephone records show Gatto spoke directly with the unnamed coach multiple times in the days before the player publicly committed to play for the Cardinals.

On Wednesday, Postel said one player has been suspended indefinitely and withheld from practices and workouts until the investigation is resolved. He did not name the player, and the player’s name was not released by federal prosecutors, but a source tells ESPN the player is Bowen. The freshman has yet to play in a game with the Cardinals.

“This decision will protect the interests of both the student and the University of Louisville,” Postel said.

The complaint said another high school player was paid to sign with the Cardinals, with Dawkins paying the money by funneling it through Augustine.

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 railed against the influence of athletic shoe companies in the recruiting process, ending a 2014 news conference by bemoaning a system he believes is often driven by the likes of Nike and Adidas.

“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.”

Pitino has won two national championships (his first was with Kentucky in 1996), reached seven Final Fours and won 770 career games. He is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

He has been especially successful at Louisville. Since taking over in the 2001-02 season, the Cardinals have 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 AdelQuentin 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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