Louisville fires Rick Pitino amid federal investigation

Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino leaves Grawemeyer Hall Sept. 27, 2017, after having a meeting with the university's interim president Greg Postel in Louisville. Ky. (Michael Clevenger/The Courier-Journal via AP)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Rick Pitino has been able to roam the sidelines as Louisville’s iconic men’s basketball coach, even defiantly at times, holding onto his job amid a series of highly embarrassing missteps off the court.

Things looked bleak this time around, with a seemingly inevitable departure looming in the weeks since the latest scandal became public. But even after the school was linked to a federal bribery investigation , no one completely counted Pitino out. Not until Monday.

The university had seen enough and decided to finally cut ties with the Hall of Famer.

The decision was unanimous.

Louisville’s Athletic Association officially fired Pitino on Monday, nearly three weeks after the school acknowledged that Pitino’s 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. The ULAA even heard from Pitino’s attorney, who made the case 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, 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.”

Pence said later in a text to The Associated Press that the decision was “disappointing but not unexpected.”

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. At that time Postel also placed athletic director Tom Jurich’s on paid administrative leave. Trustees are expected to make a decision on Jurich’s future later this week.

Also Monday, the ULAA approved the hirings of acting AD Vince Tyra and Padgett, who received a one-year contract through Sept. 29, 2018. Padgett will earn $400,000 in salary plus incentives, and received a broadcast deal for another $400,000.

However, Pitino’s status was the board’s most anticipated personnel decision.

The move Monday officially ended Pitino’s 16-year tenure with the program, a run in which he compiled a 416-143 record — including 25-9 last season and winning the 2013 NCAA championship. But his success on the court was tarnished by 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 carrying a poster board for presentation to the ULAA. The attorney later distributed a detailed 55-page document that included 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.”

There was also a polygraph result in the documents 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.

“We just needed some to digest it, read through the materials and make sure we understood all that he (Pence) had presented,” Postel said.

The board’s vote Monday was expected but still marked a quick end at Louisville for Pitino, whose career with the Cardinals has been 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.

“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.”

It all led to an unceremonious end to the Pitino era.