Rick Pitino’s Legacy

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Rick Pitino has had a long and storied career, but the “storied” part includes pitfalls and disappointments. 

Courtesy: Business Insider

Last week the NCAA and several big-name college basketball programs were blindsided … big time. An investigation by the FBI revealed that several schools (i.e., Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State, and USC) sponsored by Adidas were bribing coaches and athletes.

Louisville was one of the schools involved in the scandal, and things continue to get worse in the Derby City after winning the national title in 2013.

Head Coach Rick Pitino once again has blood-stained hands. The 65-year-old was able to talk his way out of a sex scandal, but he didn’t succeed this time. Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were placed on administrative leave last Wednesday, but Pitino’s attorney stated that Pitino had been “effectively fired.”

While Pitino told the Louisville Courier-Journal Sunday night that he “(would) be vindicated,” it looks like this may be the end of the line for the legendary coach. Like so many other sports icons that have fallen from glory, it will be interesting to see what fans will remember about Pitino.

One group that will not be quick to forget Pitino is Big Blue Nation.

Kentucky fans have been basking in the Cardinals’ misery the past week. But some are forgetting what Pitino did for UK almost 30 years ago.

The Wildcats—a basketball blue blood—were in danger of falling off the top of the mountain. A number of scandals during Eddie Sutton’s tenure in Lexington nearly shut down the basketball program. Although UK avoided the death penalty, the Wildcats were placed on probation for three years and banned from the NCAA Tournament for two seasons.

It was one of the darkest hours in UK basketball history.

Courtesy: ESPN.com

Following Sutton’s resignation, the Wildcats hired a fiery young coach from Providence College: Richard Andrew Pitino.

Using his trademark full-court press, Pitino quickly restored Kentucky to former glory. The Wildcats made three Final Fours under Pitino, winning the national title in 1996—the first for the program in 18 years.

Pitino left UK in 1997 to become the coach of the Boston Celtics before ending up at Louisville in March 2001. The landing spot is why some UK fans consider him to be a “traitor” — not dissimilar to the way that LSU fans think about Nick Saban, who left Baton Rouge for Tuscaloosa with a pro stop in-between.

What made it worse for UK fans–just as it did for LSU fans–is that Pitino (like Saban) had success. Taking over the reins from Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum, Pitino led the Cardinals to a national championship in 2013. It was the first time in Division I history that a coach had won the crown with two schools.

Pitino has had a long and storied career, but the “storied” part also includes pitfalls and disappointments. He has been on the wrong side of too many scandals. There was the Karen Cunagin Sypher sex affair (Pitino paid for her to have an abortion and then she was convicted as an extortionist). Then there was the escort scandal with recruits.

Now here we are again. Another scandal has happened on Pitino’s watch.

Joe Paterno statue removed (Courtesy: outsidethebeltway.com)

People who know nothing of college basketball know the name “Rick Pitino.” That’s what headlines do. These non-sporting fans tend to be unforgiving to sports icons embroiled in scandals. Consider the names of Joe Paterno and O.J. Simpson.

Many people don’t remember Paterno for his hugely successful gridiron career. They remember him for the  Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. And many people don’t remember O.J. for his fabulous collegiate and pro football career. They remember him for getting away with murder.

So what will be Pitino’s legacy? Many basketball fans will remember him as a great coach. But scandals will overshadow his many on-court accomplishments.


Cameron Brown is an undergraduate student at Western Kentucky University, double majoring in journalism and history with a minor in broadcasting. In addition to being a sportswriter and sports columnist, he is also the voice of South Warren Spartans football for the Sporting Times Broadcast Network. Contact him at cameron.brown288@topper.wku.edu 


About Cameron Brown

Cameron Brown is sports columnist with The Journal-Enterprise, Providence, Kentucky and winner of the Kentucky Press Association “Best Sports Column of the Year” award. Cameron has a passion for basketball–like so many others in his home state of Kentucky. He played basketball for his high school in rural western Kentucky and enjoys other sports, including college football and Major League Baseball. His dream is to have a job in sports.

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