Rick Pitino turned out to be a colossal waste of talent. Forced out by Louisville on Wednesday, Pitino will not be remembered as a coach who made regular appearances in the Final Four.
He will be remembered as the architect of a morally bankrupt program, and as a complete disgrace to his profession.
We usually think of athletes, not coaches, when we talk about superstar talent, but Pitino was different. He was absolutely born to do this for a living. If coaching ever had a bonus-baby prospect, Richard Andrew Pitino was the one. He was every bit the blue-chipper that his Louisville program allegedly purchased for a hundred grand.
Pitino was as good a basketball coach as there was on the planet, college or pro. He won national titles for the Kentucky Wildcats and the Cardinals, the equivalent of winning the World Series for his hometown Yankees and Mets. At 34, he took over a New York Knicks team that had won fewer than 25 games in each of its previous three seasons and won 38 in Year 1 and 52 in Year 2 before losing to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the conference semis.
Old-school New Yorkers still believe Pitino’s work was at least equal to the work done by the last two coaches to take the Knicks to the Finals, Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy. In fact, Van Gundy still says the best coaching job he ever saw was the job his boss at Providence College did in 1986-87, when Pitino’s best player was a fat kid from Long Island named Billy Donovan. Through several acts of God, and some brilliant maneuvering and motivating, Pitino somehow carried that team to the Final Four.
But after Louisville placed him on an unpaid leave that will certainly end with his firing, his legacy won’t be defined by the games won and the banners hung. Pitino’s enduring story will revolve around the unseemly scandals that kept unfolding around him, including this latest one that surely ended his coaching career for keeps.
Seven weeks after the NCAA put Louisville on probation for a sex-for-pay scheme run by a Pitino assistant, FBI agents secretly videotaped a July meeting in a Las Vegas hotel room that involved another Pitino assistant discussing an Adidas-backed plan to funnel money to the family of a recruit, who would then agree to sign with Adidas-sponsored Louisville. After the Pitino assistant left the room, according to federal documents, a former sports agent and the director of an Adidas AAU program continued talking with an undercover agent and a cooperating…