Rick Pitino admitted Friday his future at Louisville is unclear in the wake of a messy scandal that prompted the Cardinals to enforce a self-imposed postseason ban stemming from a slew of rules violations that allegedly included providing an escort service for visiting recruits.
Pitino, the Cardinals’ head coach since 2001, believes he’ll be around the remainder of the season but indicated he’d step away if his presence was no longer a positive for the program, according to Eric Crawford of WDRB in Louisville:
Well I’m hoping to get through this season before I die. You know, I don’t know. I will say this, and I’m going to be very up front and honest with you. I am not going to get sick, OK. I will say this about the situation. I could coach another 15 years. I thoroughly enjoy it, because I absolutely love Louisville, love the fans, love the people, enjoy you [the media]—to a certain degree.
But 5-6 years ago I came up with the theme 'Louisville First,’ and then they added ‘Cards Forever.’ Matter of fact, I own the patent for ‘Louisville First.’ The whole thing behind that was I wanted to rebrand. I’d been here for 8 or 9 years and wanted to rebrand the situation, that everything is about Louisville. We put the university first, the city first, not the coach on the back, not the name of the player on the back, just Louisville.
So when there comes a day, and I don’t know when that day is, when there comes a day where my coaching does not put Louisville first, that’s when I will leave. It won’t be based on anything other than that, I hope that’s not for a long time. But sometimes I don’t make those decisions. I do work for a university.
Barring a major collapse, No. 13 Louisville would be a shoo-in to reach the NCAA tournament for the 10th straight season, extending its postseason streak, which is currently the nation's sixth-longest.
But on Feb. 5, the school announced it would implement a postseason ban amid an ongoing NCAA investigation that began in October in light of a tell-all book, Breaking Cardinal Rules, outlining an alleged extensive escort service overseen by former Louisville assistant Andre McGee.
The author, Katina Powell, alleges McGee "paid for strippers to dance for and have sex with Louisville recruits and players over a period of four years,” according to Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports.
Pitino has been unwavering in his conviction since the book was released that he knew nothing of the alleged proceedings. He’s also publicly questioned the decision athletic director Tom Jurich made to self-impose a ban when the NCAA hasn’t even released its formal Notice of Allegations to Louisville and isn’t expected to until season’s end at the earliest, per Forde.
Whenever railing the decision, Pitino has largely blamed the "system" while backpedaling on his comments against Jurich. Yet he continues to comment, which is widely unorthodox for any team official to do amid an ongoing investigation.
Earlier this week, he went on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike—one of the most widely listened-to sports radio shows—to further discuss how he wishes the situation played out:
Pitino has 10 years left on his current contract after signing an extension in June at a little more than $5 million per year. It’d be incredibly difficult for Louisville to simply fire him if it comes to that point, but he loosely indicated he wouldn’t put up a fight if that were the case, per Crawford.
"I don’t think it would come to that with me,” Pitino said "It would not come to that. I love this place too much for it to come to that. If they didn’t want me, it wouldn’t be a matter of that, I guarantee you that."
Pitino is among the sport’s most passionate and respected figures, and he may indeed survive the slew of allegations against his program. But nothing will be certain until the NCAA reveals the extent of its findings, which could be well down the road.