LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - It's now official. Hall of Fame member Rick Pitino is no longer the coach of the University of Louisville men's basketball team.
In a move that has been expected since UofL put Pitino on unpaid administrative leave almost three weeks ago, the University of Louisville Athletic Association (ULAA) board of directors fired Pitino Monday afternoon following a 4 hour, 45-minute meeting in Grawemeyer Hall.
The 28-member board's action to dismiss Pitino was unanimous.
While most of the meeting involved discussion about Pitino in closed executive session, the board also approved a contract for interim coach David Padgett.
UofL interim president Greg Postel met with the media afterwards and answered questions, saying that Pitino's "actions and inactions" justified his termination for cause.
Pitino, 65, didn't appear at the meeting. Instead, he was represented by his attorney, Steve Pence, who submitted documents and told the board that his client passed a lie detector test and voluntarily met with the FBI. Pence said Pitino did not know and could not have known about the "pay to play" scheme alleged in an FBI complaint made public last month and he asked that Pitino be reinstated. But none of that swayed the board.
"We wanted to make sure coach Pitino's team had a chance to present materials to us," Postel said. "One of the reasons the meeting was so long that we wanted to have a chance to sit down and go through the materials so we could understand the content of what they wanted us to understand. We listened carefully, read carefully everything they gave us and at the end of the conversation we felt that our initial decision to begin the process of termination for cause was still in the best interest of the university."
In a four-page affidavit from Pitino that Pence presented to the board, the coach said he didn't dispute that the ULAA had the right to fire him, but he "vehemently" rejected their right to do it "for cause."
Postel cited his Oct. 3 letter sent to Pitino as the basis for his firing. That letter listed eight reasons the school was seeking his termination, including the escort/stripper scandal that resulted in the NCAA vacating UofL's 2013 national championship and 123 victories in addition to requiring repayment of revenue from the 2012-15 NCAA tournaments. The school has appealed that penalty
Among other reasons listed were failure to supervise compliance of assistant coaches, failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance and ethical conduct, engagement in willful misconduct and failure to take responsibility for violations.
Pitino's name is not included in the federal criminal complaint that was released Sept. 26, but sources have confirmed that Pitino was the "Coach 2" listed in the report.
Pitino's firing sets the stage for a court battle. Because he was fired with cause, the university will claim it doesn't owe him the approximately $44 million remaining on his contract, which runs through the 2026 season. It could argue that it owes him as little as $10,000. Even before the official firing, Pence had threatened a lawsuit if Pitino was terminated with cause.
In his appearance before the ULAA board in an effort seeking Pitino's reinstatement, Pence told the members that they should give the matter more consideration. The attorney presented the board with a 53-page packet outlining Pitino's legal defense, plus 11 exhibits of text messages, polygraph results and letters of support from staff members.
"I get the emotion, believe me. I live in the community," Pence said. "But we ought to step back, take a deep breath and see what the facts are and not take action until we know what the facts are."
The lie detector test was administered in Miami on Oct. 6 by the Kentucky-based Advanced Investigative Solutions Inc. The questions included:
Did you participate in paying (Louisville freshman Brian Bowen's) family?
Before Sept. 26, did you know Bowen's family had been paid?
Pitino answered no to both questions. The polygraph examiner, Carl Christiansen, said that in his opinion Pitino's recorded responses were not deceptive.
Pence's documents also quote Pitino as saying he voluntarily met with the FBI and spoke with Adidas executive James Gatto. In the documents, Pitino denied any involvement in the bribery conspiracy.
Pence provided the board with text messages between Pitino, sports agent and former AAU director Christian Dawkins and Gatto, who were arrested as part of the federal investigation into the scandal.
Pence provided the media with copies of text messages he had shared with the board. In one, dated May 23, Dawkins asked Pitino if he would be interested in recruiting Bowen.
"Coach- this is Christian Dawkins. I dealt with you on Jaylen Johnson. Would you have interest in Brian Bowen," Dawkins' text read.
Pitino responded, "We would love to have him," and sent along contact information for UofL associate head coach Kenny Johnson, who has since been put on paid administrative leave.
Other documents provided by Pence included an interview with Carl Christiansen, a private investigator working on Pitino's behalf. In it, Padgett said that he and Johnson were questioned by Pitino about why he wasn't informed that Bowen's family was living at the Galt House, a downtown Louisville hotel.
“(Pitino) told Kenny Johnson to check into the matter and find out how they could afford to live in the Galt House,” said the legal team’s document recounting Padgett’s account of the incident. “Padgett stated he surmises Johnson responded to Pitino on his own because Padgett was not present when Johnson provided the coach further information about the Bowen's (sic) living at the Galt House.
“Padgett stated at the time neither he or Johnson were aware the Bowens were living at the Galt House. Padgett recalls Pitino may have learned this as a result of a text from Brian Bowen's mother to Pitino.”
The Galt House offers extended-stay, suite apartments in the general price range of $2,500 to $4,000 per month.
Bowen’s mother, Carrie Ann Malecke, told Pitino by text message in September that the family had moved to Louisville and was living at the hotel, according to documents, which stated that Pitino directed an assistant coach to inform UofL's athletics' compliance staff.
"There is no way Coach Pitino would have taken these actions if he had been involved in or had knowledge of the alleged bribery scheme," the document said.
The FBI complaint alleges that Louisville coaches participated in a conspiracy to attempt to funnel $100,000 to Bowen's family for the player’s commitment to attend UofL and then sign with specific agents and with Adidas when he turns pro. Bowen has since been indefinitely suspended from UofL's team.
Bowen’s mother, according to documents released by Pence, told Pitino’s legal team in a document dated Oct. 10 that "she is residing at the Gault (sic) House temporarily" and that she and Bowen’s father have never been married “but have lived together for about 21 years.”
Malecke added that Johnson was her primary contact at Louisville in her son’s recruitment.
Brian Bowen Sr. has been interviewed by the FBI, Malecke told Pitino’s legal team.
During his interview with Pitino’s legal team, Padgett “recalls Pitino telling the staff that he wanted to know ‘everything,’ even if a player broke up with a girlfriend. There was no detail too insignificant,” according to the documents.
In other messages provided by Pence, Gatto and Pitino discussed on Aug. 1 and 2 Adidas' deal with former Louisville player and current Boston Celtics point guard Terry Rozier. The messages also show Pitino later asked Gatto to contact "Jordan," presumably since-fired UofL assistant coach Jordan Fair.
"The right thing is to make the determination that the coach not only did not know but could not have known of this scheme going on," Pence told reporters after meeting with the board for over an hour and before a vote was taken. "The right thing to do is to bring the coach back. If the university wants to negotiate for him to leave at a later time, we can talk about that. This is not the right way to do this. I think we made a very strong and compelling case to the board."
For Pitino, it was a sad and inglorious end to a brilliant 16-year coaching career at Louisville, where he won 416 games, the 2013 national title, took the Cards to three Final Fours and won championships in three different conferences.
During his nearly 30-year college coaching career at Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville, Pitino won 770 games, two national titles and made seven Final Fours. He is the only coach in NCAA history to take three different schools to the Final Four. He also coached the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics in the NBA and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
But while experiencing success on the court, Pitino's tenure has been marred by scandals, starting with the Karen Sypher encounter eight years ago and continuing with the 2015 Katina Powell scandal, and now the college basketball pay-for-play criminal investigation.
At over $5 million per year, he was one of the top three highest-paid college coaches in the country. After Pitino's firing, Adidas, which had a personal services contract with the coach, announced it is cutting ties with him, effective immediately.
PADGETT PACT WORTH $1 million
Padgett will earn a minimum of $800,000 over the next 12 months and could make as much as $1 million from incentive clauses if the Cardinals reach certain academic and athletic goals.
ULAA voted unanimously to ratify his contract, which includes $400,000 in base pay and $400,000 in other media and public relations obligations. The deal is a one-year commitment that runs from Sept. 29, 2017 through Sept. 29, 2018.
Here are the incentives:
-$25,000 if Louisville finishes the regular season ranked in the top 20 of the Associated Press or USA TODAY poll
-$25,000 if UofL the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
-$50,000 if UofL reaches the NCAA Tournament Final Four
-$50,000 if UofL wins the NCAA Tournament championship
-$25,000 or $50,000 if the Cards reach specific collective grade-point average benchmarks.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports for Kentucky Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.