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Rick Pitino Fired As Louisville Basketball Coach Amid Massive Bribery Probe

Rick Pitino, seen during Louisville's second-round loss in the 2017 NCAA men's basketball tournament.
Joe Robbins
Getty Images
Rick Pitino, seen during Louisville's second-round loss in the 2017 NCAA men's basketball tournament.

The University of Louisville has fired men's basketball coach Rick Pitino, ending his tenure with the team roughly three weeks after the program was implicated in a federal bribery and fraud investigation. The board of the school's athletic association voted unanimously during a closed-door meeting Monday to terminate his contract with "just cause."

During the course of the hourslong meeting, Pitino's lawyers argued that the coach was unaware of an alleged scheme to secretly funnel cash — in the words of acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim — from "employees of one of the world's largest sportswear companies ... to the families of high school recruits."

But university officials remained unconvinced by the lawyers' argument.

"We listened carefully to what they said, we read carefully everything they gave us," interim President Gregory Postel told reporters Monday, "but we felt that our initial decision to begin the process of termination for cause was still in the best interest of the university."

Pitino had been placed on unpaid leave late last month, when the school put his employment under review.

The decision is the latest episode in a storied — if scandal-plagued — career on the sideline for Pitino. Before he was placed on unpaid leave late last month, Pitino had spent more than a decade and a half with Louisville, where he won a national championship in 2013 — just hours after his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

But that championship was vacated earlier this year, after the NCAA found the program guilty of more wrongdoing: "arranging striptease dances and sex acts for prospects, student-athletes and others." In addition to losing its records over a span of more than three years, Louisville was placed on probation for another four — and the NCAA called for Pitino to be suspended for several games in the coming season for his alleged failure of oversight.

As ESPN noted last month, other scandals have clouded Pitino's career, despite successes including a national title for Louisville's cross-state rival, the University of Kentucky. The network reports his run-ins with the NCAA date back to the very early years of his career with the University of Hawaii.

But it was the FBI probe that helped provide the coup de grace for Pitino's time with Louisville.

Member station WFPL reported on the alleged illicit payments — which led to arrests at four universities, though not at Louisville:

"In court filings, prosecutors describe two scenarios in which an Adidas staffer secured payments for families of U of L recruits. In one instance, an Adidas employee arranged for $100,000 and ongoing monthly payments allegedly funneled through a third-party company for a high school player, who is currently a freshman athlete at the school.

"That athlete is widely believed to be star recruit Brian Bowen."

Adidas also announced Monday that it had terminated its deal with Pitino, according to ESPN.

Postel asserted "there isn't just a single reason" that led the school to fire Pitino.

"There were a number of issues that over time were brought to our attention," Postel said, "and we simply felt that this was in the best interest of the university to make the decision at this point in time."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.
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