CRAWFORD | Pitino says his return to Louisville next season is 'highly likely'
Rick Pitino can't make any guarantees, but he says he expects that tonight's game at the KFC Yum! Center won't be his last at the University of Louisville.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Rick Pitino knows the speculation is out there. Ian O’Connor, who goes back a long way with the University of Louisville basketball coach, called him Monday to tell him that he was running with an ESPN story, exploring whether Pitino will be coaching his final home game at Louisville when the Cardinals play host to Georgia Tech at 8 p.m. in the KFC Yum! Center.
O’Connor spoke to many of Pitino’s friends who don’t think he’ll be back at Louisville next season. I spoke to Pitino after that conversation.
“I just said it’s highly likely that I’ll be back next season,” Pitino said. “I will do what I always do. I never decide anything right after the season. I’ll take a couple of weeks, see how I feel. But unless I come to the belief that me being here is not what’s best for the University of Louisville, then I’m coming back to work for a championship.”
You can find no shortage of people who will tell you what they think of Rick Pitino, or of what he’s going to do. He has lots of friends. Like him, they all have lots of opinions and aren’t shy about sharing them.
Pitino acknowledged early in the season that this recent scandal took the wind out of his sails. He talked about feeling down heading into this season. There was a time when he couldn’t imagine the prospect of navigating through another scandal.
Then basketball happened. Basketball, invariably, is where he withdraws in times of crisis. And this basketball season, in which his team has climbed to No. 11 in the nation after starting the season unranked, has brought him back around to his love of coaching.
“This team rejuvenated me,” Pitino said.
Some speculated that this scandal, in combination with his 2003 sexual indiscretion with Karen Sypher and the subsequent extortion trial, has perhaps left him looking for a new start elsewhere. Pitino said that’s not the case.
“I made peace with my family and my wife and my God,” Pitino said. “That’s all I care about my legacy. The rest is all wins and losses.”
There has been speculation that Pitino might have interest in the open job at Nevada Las Vegas, or that he might look to the NBA.
“I’m not interested in coaching anywhere else,” Pitino said. “In 15 years here, I had one conversation when Providence called, and another about a job in television. Maybe 20 years ago you could say I had looked at other jobs, but not anymore.”
Pitino’s old friend, Jim Boeheim, told ESPN he doesn’t think Pitino is finished in the game, or at Louisville.
“He's definitely not done in coaching, and I don't see him leaving Louisville,” Boeheim told O’Connor. “They'll get through this like we had to get through it. Get it resolved as quickly as possible, and move on from there. They're always going to have good players, and if Rick Pitino has good players, he's going to win."
Everyone wants a guarantee. They want the crystal ball, or a prediction. On Feb. 12, in a news conference, Pitino actually used the words “I don’t know” when discussing this subject. I don’t know that anyone does.
The feeling, over the past couple of months, has at times gone back and forth daily.
I keep saying this, because I don’t feel like I ever see it anywhere else.
The curtain still has not been lifted on the mechanics of this scandal. We know Pitino will be held responsible for this scandal. We have no idea whether he will be found at fault for these events. Responsibility is inherent in the job. Fault means there were ways in which you were specifically negligent.
There are those who are ready to assign fault before we’ve seen the final findings. Who knows? Maybe, in the end, they will be right.
And Pitino himself has said, the decision may not rest entirely in his hands.
The situation at U of L is, to say the least, fluid. President Jim Ramsey was the subject of a whistleblower lawsuit on Monday that, while not concerning the situation in athletics, further destabilizes the leadership structure at the school. For anyone to predict what will happen with any degree of certainty is a shaky proposition, at best.
Of the basketball scandal, what we know, and what the school has generally acknowledged, is bad enough.
The answer, however, probably lies in what we don’t know. And that may be true for Pitino, too.
And we won’t know that by tonight, when the Cardinals take the court in Louisville for the last time this season.
“This is a night for Damion Lee and Trey Lewis,” Pitino said. “It’s a night to recognize the effort all these players have given all year in a very difficult situation. That’s what this night is about.”
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