Louisville fires Rick Pitino amid federal investigation
Louisville, Ky. — Louisville's Athletic Association has officially fired coach Rick Pitino nearly three weeks after the school acknowledged that its men's basketball program is being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe.
The association, which oversees Louisville's sports programs and is composed of trustees, faculty, students and administrators, voted unanimously to oust the longtime Cardinals coach following a board meeting Monday. The ULAA heard from Pitino's attorney, who made the case Monday that his client "could not have known" about activities alleged in the federal investigation.
Not long after Steve Pence's 45-minute address to the ULAA on Pitino's behalf, the association announced its decision after five hours of meetings. Pitino has $44 million remaining in salary and bonuses in a contract extension through the 2025-26 season. He was scheduled to earn a base salary of $5.1 million.
"We listened carefully to what they said, we read carefully everything they gave us," university interim President Greg Postel said of the legal team's presentation. "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 interests of the university. And that's why the resolution was put forth and passed."
The association had authorized Postel to begin the process of firing Pitino for cause on Oct. 2 after Postel placed the coach on unpaid administrative leave Sept. 27.
The move Monday officially ends Pitino's 16-year tenure with the program, a run that included winning the 2013 NCAA championship but was tarnished by several embarrassing off-court incidents.
Pitino, 65, is not named in court complaints in the federal probe but Postel said in a disciplinary letter that the allegations violated his contract. Ten people that have been arrested in the corruption case, including four college assistant coaches and an Adidas executive.
Pence had contended that Louisville rushed to judgment and said Monday that Pitino should be retained.
"The coach did not engage in any of this activity, he didn't know about the activity," Pence said. "I think we made a very compelling case to the board, I think they listened attentively and we'll just have to wait and see what they say."
Pence entered the meeting holding a poster board for presentation to the ULAA. The attorney later distributed a detailed 55-page document that includes letters of support for the coach, including one from David Padgett, who was named as Pitino's interim replacement on Sept. 29.
The statements also included an affidavit from Pitino in which the coach said he "had no part — active, passive or through willful ignorance in the conspiracy described in the complaint."
The attorney's statement included a polygraph result indicating that Pitino was not deceptive in answering that he did not pay signee Brian Bowen's family or knew that Bowen's family was paid.
Neither the book of documents nor the presentation by Pitino's legal team swayed the board.
Pitino's run at Louisville included winning the 2013 NCAA championship but was tarnished by several embarrassing off-court incidents.
Pence said after Pitino was initially placed on leave that his client was "effectively fired" by Louisville. The coach said in a statement on Sept. 29 that he wasn't aware of payments to any recruit or their family but added, "I was the head coach and I will take ownership of my decisions."
The board's vote Monday was expected but still marked a quick end at Louisville for Pitino, a Hall of Famer whose career with the Cardinals was successful but marred the past two years with various incidents.
Pitino and Louisville are appealing NCAA penalties levied in June following an investigation into a sex scandal that emerged in October 2015. Escort Katina Powell alleged in a book that former Cardinals staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits in the team's dormitory from 2010-14.
The NCAA placed Louisville on four years' probation and has ordered the vacation of up to 123 victories over that period, which includes the 2013 title. Pitino received a five-game suspension.
Louisville's involvement in the federal probe was the last straw for the university. Postel wrote in an Oct. 3 disciplinary letter to Pitino that the action arose out of his conduct over a period of years and noted his involvement in the recent scandals.
The letter also states that Pitino failed to notify compliance staff of a May campus visit by agent Christian Dawkins, who was arrested in the probe.
"Your involvement in these recent scandals cannot be considered isolated events," Postel wrote. "Instead, they are illustrative of a pattern and practice of inappropriate behavior."
Pitino was 416-143 with Louisville, including 25-9 last season.
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