Rick Pitino: Can We Really Trust Him Despite His History?

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Rick Pitino: Can We Really Trust Him Despite His History?
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Let me tell you a story.

When I was 12, I read in the newspaper that Rick Pitino was going to be named the head coach of the Boston Celtics.

At the time, I was ecstatic. I worshipped Pitino and everything he stood for, and was quickly losing my patience in the team as a fan.

He had led the Kentucky Wildcats to the NCAA championship in 1996 and followed up with another run to the championship game. He was considered a master of basketball knowledge as well as discipline.

In short, he was exactly what the Celtics needed.

It didn't matter that Pitino wanted more power and a boatload of money to come to Boston. He had a reputation as a winner.

There was little doubt that the Celtics would be restored to their former glory, and Pitino would take his place among other legendary coaches of the Green such as Auerbach and Hiensohn.

However, I began to learn of warning signs that Pitino wasn't the man he claimed to be.

It all started when my history teacher at the time, Mr. Mello, advised me to not count the chickens before they hatched.

He was a proud alumnus of Providence College and was still involved with them as an athletic booster.

He remembered the days where Pitino greased every booster's palms and said he was committed to coaching the Friars for a long time after leading them to the 1987 Final Four.

Alas, he lied and took the head coaching job with the Knicks.

I bet poor Mr. Mello still bristles when he sees the interviews the local media does with Pitino when he comes back here with Louisville and always expresses regret for leaving when he did.

Within two years, Pitino was tired of the grind of the NBA, and went back to the safety of the college game.

Shortly before he moved on to the Celtics, Pitino filmed an ad for Kentucky tourism in which he stated he wouldn't leave the state for all the money in the world.

But money talks, and he did it anyway.

The past didn't matter to me. Rick Pitino was now coaching my team, and knew how to get the most out of everyone to succeed.

I should have known things would get worse when the Celtics missed out on Tim Duncan in Pitino's first draft, and demoted the iconic Red Auerbach to vice chairman of the board so Pitino could take over as team President.

He built his team around undersized players such as Ron Mercer and Rodney Rogers, and traded away a solid up-and-comer named Chauncey Billups.

The first two years were rough, but I still thought Pitino would eventually turn things around in his third year as coach.

Then, in a instant, came the night I would lose my trust in Rick Pitino forever.

In a game in early 2000, the Celtics lost a close one to the Raptors on a buzzer-beater by Vince Carter.

The press conference after the game has gone down in Boston lore.

A clearly agitated Pitino ripped both the Boston media and it's fans for being negative, and managed to besmirch the names of three Celtic legends in his tirade.

While it was true Bird, Parrish, and McHale weren't walking through the door, and would be grey and old if they did, I felt the press conference was an insult to me as a fan.

How dare Pitino, who was given carte blanche when he came here, attack the fans like this?

If you're making millions on a salary I'm helping to pay by plunking ten dollars down on a stale piece of pizza, I have every right to be negative.

Plus, Pitino knew the sports culture in New England long before he came to the Celtics.

Win, and you're golden.

Lose, and you're garbage.

After spewing more bull about how the team was upbeat and positive and would turn it around, Pitino had authored one of the more memorable press conferences in Boston sports history.

After another losing season, the Celtics came out of the chute in 2000-2001 limping along at 12-22 after 32 games.

That's when Pitino decided he had had enough and resigned as both coach and President of the Boston Celtics.

In effect, he was washing his hands of the mess he created, and left his beleaguered assistant Jim O'Brien to pick up the pieces.

How could someone I greatly admired turn his back on his team and his fans like a weasel?

Now, eight years later, comes news of an extramarital affair Pitino had with a woman six years ago.

While I believe that personal business should stay out of the limelight, this episode does give Pitino a chance to be contrite and admit what he did was wrong.

The effects of his admission could be devastating, as it may hurt both Pitino's reputation as a person and on the recruiting trail.

But two lingering questions remain.

Will Rick Pitino focus on his job and try to right his slowly sinking ship, or will he make a quick exit before the situation gets worse?

Fasten your seatbelts, this could be one heck of a ride!

 

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