CRAWFORD | Nine thoughts from a devastating week at Louisville
Eric Crawford wraps up some thoughts on numerous subjects related to U of L's most recent basketball scandal.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Friday was a television kind of day. While big events were happening, I was sitting in a TV studio, talking, which saved me all the running around on campus and dashing from administration building to basketball facility, but also kept me away from the keyboard and from some interviews.
So I’m going to collect my thoughts on the week's University of Louisville events here in one place. They all come from a distance, and without the benefit of a ton of sleep, but it’s easier than writing a handful of smaller stories, though not as web-click beneficial.
David Padgett’s official title is acting coach. He is the third man to hold that title since World War II (U of L has had only four official head coaches in that time).
Watching the news conference on television, I thought he did a good job. The school needs to invest in a taller podium for the 6-11 former center for the Cardinals, but he hit all the right notes.
He spoke completely without ego. He continually returned to the subject of his players. He didn’t shy away from Rick Pitino’s influence, and didn’t lose patience when difficult questions arose. That’s good. He can expect more of them.
1). THE HIRE. I like Padgett. I think he’ll do a good job. It’s probably the most difficult spot any U of L coach has been put into since the program became a significant player under Peck Hickman.
John Dromo had a heart attack in January of 1971 and 31-year-old Howard Stacey finished the season, going 12-8. He was replaced by Denny Crum. Pitino took a medical leave of absence on Jan. 27, 2004 and Kevin Willard coached one game in his place, beating Houston 64-48.
Padgett has two weeks until the team’s first exhibition, and just over a month before the season’s first real game.
Given that timeframe, the position of hiring a replacement was fraught with difficulty. But keeping an assistant from a staff that already is under scrutiny is, it must be said, a risk. U of L acting president Greg Postel didn’t get the question on Friday, but he will – was he aware that Padgett was in Orlando recruiting on the day the federal investigation news broke this week, and was Padgett there seeing Balsa Koprivica, who media reports say is “Player-11” in the FBI investigation, a player who is accused of receiving money to go to Louisville, or someone else?
At the very least, Koprivica played for an AAU program run by Brad Augustine, who was charged in the case, and who reportedly accompanied Koprivia on his visit to Louisville the weekend of the Louisville-Clemson football game. It would be tough for any assistant on that staff not to have had interactions with Augustine.
So Padgett at least, surely, has met Augustine, and was represented, during his playing days, by agent Andy Miller, whose offices were raided as part of the federal probe. He said his only contact with the agent now is a yearly birthday text message, and also assured the media that he is not part of the FBI investigation.
Padgett also said, in response to a question from Yahoo! sports writer Pat Forde on Friday, that he was not at Koprivica's high school, Widemere Prep, while in Florida.
These are nagging questions, but media, and every one else now, is going to have to be forgiven for pressing. These things matter. To Padgett's credit, he seems to understand this.
“I don’t think Dr. Postel would have the confidence to put me up in this position if he was worried about anything.”
Postel had better hope he’s right. Wait. Rephrase that. Postel had better know he’s right. If the situation is otherwise, there should be no do-overs.
Beyond that, Padgett has a good understanding of what is going through the minds of his players. He went to Kansas to play for Roy Williams, then Williams went to North Carolina. That’s part of the reason he ended up at Louisville. That he’ll have to coach against Williams this season illustrates the difficulty of the road ahead.
The odds of success in these situations are long. When Duke loses coach Mike Krzyzewski for a time, it loses games. When the head coach goes down, the program goes down.
To replace a legendary coach is not an enviable task for anyone. To replace one who is your mentor, in difficult circumstances, is even tougher. Padgett is going to need the support of the Louisville fan base. He took a big step toward getting it with his press conference performance Friday.
2). WERE OTHERS INTERESTED? You’d better believe it. Former Indiana coach Tom Crean was interested, according to several people close to the process. At least one Division I coach expressed an interest and conveyed to a media member that he was willing to come immediately regardless of the future of the program.
A number of people were advocating on behalf of Kentucky assistant coach and former Louisville player Kenny Payne. Some coaches who would’ve gotten consideration under normal circumstances likely didn’t, in this case, because the school wanted an interim, not to commit to a permanent coach moving forward, given the uncertainty around the program.
The other problem, of course, is that school officials have no way of knowing who and who isn’t involved in the current widening investigation. It’s just not a safe climate in which to hire anyone, certainly not on a permanent basis.
There was the question of Scott Davenport. Frankly, a lot of us who admire what he has built at Bellarmine would’ve hated to see him leave that program on the eve of a season for an interim position.
But when the time comes to make a decision at the end of this season, especially if the road ahead appears as if it will be particularly rocky, somebody needs to have a long conversation with Davenport, who knows the community, knows what the program means, and knows the value of the job, whether the times are good or bad.
3). JURICH COMMENTS. I didn’t get much time on the phone with Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, but he did say enough to make some news. He’s on paid administrative leave while the board of trustees considers his fate in advance of a trustees meeting on Oct. 19. Jurich didn’t want to answer questions, but when I asked him about the Coach-2 allegations against Pitino, he told me that if anyone showed him evidence that Pitino was Coach-2 – and committed the acts of which Coach-2 is accused – he’d have dismissed him.
There are movements under way to have university leadership reconsider Jurich. The field hockey team will put on a show of support for him. Football coach Bobby Petrino said he's hoping for a Jurich return after Louisville's football game on Saturday. A segment of the fan base, though who knows how large, believes he should not be thrown out because of the actions of a few “bad actors” in his basketball program. Others feel as if the hand of athletics at the university has been too heavy, and leaders should follow through with the change.
An example – one U of L employee told me that to send a letter out with the school’s “Cardinal head” logo on it, a royalty had to be paid to athletics, which owns the marks. It’s one reason you see separate logo schemes for the athletic department and the university. Little things like that wear thin quickly on a university campus.
Still, Jurich has sounded conciliatory in his public comments, and we’ll see if the current university leadership shares that tone. My sense is some of the most important people in leadership do not. Nonetheless, Jurich’s only shot if his desire is to see some kind of reconciliation is to do exactly what he has done since being placed on leave – express his support of the university, and distance himself from the coach he supported so extraordinarily for so long.
4). PITINO COMMENTS. The deposed Louisville coach was criticized for putting out a statement virtually as his replacement was stepping to the podium to speak to reporters for the first time. In fairness, the statement reportedly had been in the process of being crafted and released for some time, and nobody got much notice on the news conference to introduce Padgett.
Regardless, it, too, was a more conciliatory stance from Pitino, thanking fans and former players from both Kentucky and Louisville for their expressions of support.
To friends and family who have reached out to him, he said, “I owe a thousand thanks, and an apology for the disappointment you must have.”
The landscape under Pitino changed overnight. A fan base that had stuck with him through some pretty difficult circumstances, checked out on Tuesday morning.
His legacy, at the moment, is in tatters. The only thing that can restore a portion of it now is for events to back up his assertion that “I had no knowledge of any payments to any recruit or their
The “no-knowledge” defense has a limit, but if facts were to back him up, it would allow a different light to shine on his Louisville time, though not an unsoiled one.
In the one foreboding remark in the statement, Pitino acknowledged that the university “took the action they thought was necessary and I will do the same.”
Earlier in the week, Pitino’s attorney, Steve Pence, insisted that the university violated its contract by placing Pitino on leave and said the coach intends to fight for the money owed him in the contract, estimated in excess of $40 million.
U of L’s highest-stakes game of the season might not be on the court, but in court.
5). COACH 2. Multiple national outlets are citing sources “confirming” Pitino as Coach-2 from the federal complaint handed down on Tuesday. I can’t confirm it. I did write a story Thursday morning after multiple national outlets, citing multiple sources, reported the news, and tried to give context to what it means if the news is true.
At this point, there’s a lot more reason to believe it is true than it isn’t, though I will allow for a healthy measure of doubt given how often even national mainstream sources have been flat wrong on major stories in recent years. For this many to be flat wrong would be the worst kind of Fake News.
Coach-2 is alleged to have called adidas executive James Gatto when it became necessary to extract more money from the shoe company because another entity had raised its offer to a recruit.
That’s about as high a level of involvement as you can get from a head coach.
We’re going to know without a doubt who Coach-2 is. The University of Louisville, presumably, already knows, but Postel has said it is inappropriate for the school to say.
We’ve had no denial from Pitino or his attorney that he is Coach-2, but the coach says he had no knowledge of money for recruits, and has done nothing wrong.
The developing narrative may be that there were conversations between Pitino and Gatto, but no payments to players were discussed. Perhaps they were talking about footwear, or their grandchildren.
In any event, this at the moment is the central question surrounding this matter, in terms of how high this went at U of L.
6). FBI INTERVIEWS. The swiftness with which this broke Tuesday morning still is fairly amazing in a world of leaks.
U of L, as I’ve reported, when asked to respond to the federal complaint, still hadn’t seen a copy of it Tuesday morning. WDRB provided one.
Three sources close to the matter have told WDRB that FBI agents met Louisville coaches at the Yum! Center basketball complex Tuesday morning when they arrived at work, and spoke to several at that time.
WDRB’s Mike Lacett reported on Wednesday morning, and showed video, of an unidentified man in an unmarked sport utility vehicle removing a computer from the facility. In addition, WHAS Radio’s Terry Meiners reported that the building entry codes and locks were changed.
For years, the building’s entry code was “1996,” the year Pitino won his NCAA championship at Kentucky. Recently, I would assume that the code had been changed to “2013,” because Meiners noted that it commemorated a national championship. I didn't have knowledge of the most recent code, however.
The status of U of L assistants Jordan Fair, widely reported to be Coach-1 in the federal complaint, and Kenny Johnson, is up in the air, and will be a matter for the acting athletic director to take up when he is named next week, according to school officials.
7). THE ATHLETIC DIRECTOR. Sources say that some U of L officials would like to have had Junior Bridgeman take the job of acting athletic director, but the local executive has a full plate. Moreover, just about everyone who has been approached about the job internally has not wanted to take it.
Current staff has been ordered to have no contact with Jurich, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a great deal of loyalty to him and frustration at the decision to remove him among a staff, almost all of whom he hired.
Sources tell WDRB that the school has spoken with four internal candidates, two of whom, senior women administrator and assistant AD Christine Herring and Christine Simatocolous, associate athletic director for student life and a former staffer with the NCAA, didn’t want the position.
On Friday, it appeared that Kenny Klein, the school’s senior associate athletic director for media relations, is the choice for the job. I haven’t spoken to Klein about it. Knowing him, I can imagine he’s reluctant but willing.
Klein would bring to the position the instant respect of national media. He’s widely the considered the best SID in college sports.
Going from sports information director to athletic director is a big jump. But many times, when I’ve seen statements come from the university or various decisions made, it has occurred to me, “That’s a decision that nobody ran past Kenny Klein.”
For the decisions to have to run past him might not be a bad thing for the university or its athletic department in this time of crisis.
8). WHAT ABOUT ADIDAS? That’s the $160 million question. An addition to Louisville’s original adidas agreement was signed sometime after their joint announcement of the deal that made Louisville the flagship program in the shoe company’s college portfolio in late August.
The deal is worth around $98 million in cash or equivalent payments, and just over $6 million annually in equipment, but it is not scheduled to go into effect until June of next year.
I’m not sure what either side will want to do on this deal. I’ve heard a lot of fans blaming shoe companies, but it takes two to do what happened in this federal investigation. The shoe companies needed coaches to help create fake purchase orders and other fraudulent documents to get the money.
Adidas can say it was wronged by the school, which helped create documents to defraud it. Louisville can say it was wronged by a shoe company plotting to break NCAA rules.
In the case of image and whether either will want the corporate relationship to continue, that’s difficult to say.
But adidas is a major player at U of L. The most recent agreement put adidas branding front and center in the tunnel Cardinal players will run through to take the field in the new Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium expansion. The company funds a sports management internship program at U of L.
It was hard to miss, in the construction area of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium's north end zone expansion on Saturday, two things that were present the week before, that few probably took note of. The "We, the Future" banners, bearing adidas' logo, hanging across the project, and a large crane parked in front, bearing the word "Padgett."
If there’s a split with adidas, it’s going to be complicated. And for U of L, costly.
9). WHAT’S NEXT? There is much more to be said and written. I want to write a column aimed at U of L fans, who are really the key to the future of this program right now. But I’ll do that another time.
The surreal part of this – beyond the absence of Pitino and Jurich after so many years of being the brand names of the Louisville program – is that Louisville has a good team this season.
I want to say this – of course, I also said it two years ago and it made no difference – if no impropriety is found in the recruiting of current players on this team, for the university to self-impose a postseason ban at the end of this season would be unconscionable. It would be a disservice to these players, some of whom suffered through the ban two seasons ago.
Having said that, we don’t know yet what else was going on in Louisville recruiting. We’ll find out soon enough.
There are other questions about the program’s future. The words “death penalty” have been thrown around a great deal. I don’t think that’s actually going to happen. Then again, I didn’t think the 2013 NCAA championship would be vacated. If it’s on the table, it’s on the table. Everything Louisville has done since this news broke Tuesday has been an effort to avoid that eventuality, which would be devastating to the university, its athletic department and to the city, in some ways.
By the time that question is being debated at the NCAA, Louisville basketball will have a far different look, one would think, even from the way it looks today. For that matter, the NCAA might, too.
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