BOZICH | Day 30 of Louisville/Jurich/Pitino breakup -- who's losing?
On Day 30 of this dispute between former Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, men's basketball coach Rick Pitino and school administrators there is one clear loser.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Beware the debris flying from the University of Louisville sandbox. Listen to the trash talk that would make the Cameron Crazies blush.
Make certain children are watching. They need to understand what big-time college athletics and leadership are all about:
Ego. Pride. Reputation. Winning.
Blame-shifting. Finger-pointing. Protecting turf.
I’m uncertain who’s going to win this dark dance matching the new U of L administration led by acting president Dr. Greg Postel and board of trustees chairman David Grissom against fired athletic director Tom Jurich and men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino – other than the folks who keep track of billable hours and count web hits.
However, I can declare a loser – the University of Louisville community, students, professors, workers, alumni and fans. Enjoy every dribble of this season as best you can because you won’t recognize Louisville basketball in another year.
The nastier this fight becomes (and they’re merely warming up) and the longer it stretches, the more difficult it will be to keep this university vibrant, unified and appealing -- and not just to athletes. As one friend of the school told me Wednesday, this hissing contest has already pushed U of L back 10 years.
Parent: What college have you chosen, dear?
Student/athlete: The University of Louisville.
Parent: We need to talk and schedule a few more campus visits.
If you’re scoring at home, this is where we are:
U of L wants to move forward from Jurich and Pitino and their high-end contracts as inexpensively as possible.
The school also wants to show the NCAA that the guys formerly in charge are gone, in case U of L makes a repeat visit to the Committee of Infractions. You don’t want discussion of the magic words Death Penalty about a basketball program that one financial magazine has declared the most lucrative in the game.
That would be bad for the athletic department, the university, the city and unthinkably bad for the KFC Yum! Center, which is trying to negotiate a better bond payment deal with all this noise going on.
Jurich and Pitino have another goal – and it’s no longer beating Kentucky and North Carolina. Their bank accounts, reputations and future employment opportunities are at stake.
For Pitino, they say that is more than $40 million. The school was thinking more like $1.5 million -- paid to his favorite charity.
For Jurich, neither side has been eager to offer the first settlement number. Negotiating 101. First they must decide if Jurich was terminated with cause (U of L’s stance) or without (Jurich’s position). I’ll put the over/under here at $5 million.
Six weeks ago some considered the duo Lennon and McCartney, the Best Athletic Director in America and a Hall of Fame coach. That included the university, which featured a full-court gush about both in athletic media guides.
This dissolution makes Bob Knight vs. Indiana University seem like a junior-varsity grudge match. There is no neutral zone.
The Jurich/Pitino fans will continue to argue that neither man has done anything wrong, that they’re unfortunate victims of two rogue basketball staffers.
The athletic director and coach led the school away from the uninspiring confines of the East Carolinas and UABs into the glamorous digs of the Big East and Atlantic Coast conferences, pumping up Louisville’s self-esteem and expanding its brand.
That had also been the university’s story. And the school was sticking to it – until another scandal popped 30 days ago. This one involved a more ominous string of letters than the NCAA.
That is the FBI, which opened the door for tougher questions for Pitino and Jurich. A federal prosecutor alleged that a representative of the basketball program discussed a $100,000 payment to a basketball recruit with a representative of a sneaker company – the same sneaker company that agreed to a $160 million, 10-year deal with U of L not long after that recruit committed. Tell me more.
That’s when the university, with this fresh set of leaders, made a severe public U-turn, deciding the job description for the coach as well as the athletic director included taking responsibility for outrageous behavior by people they hired.
Sex in a restaurant booth? Shrug.
Strippers and prostitutes in the basketball dorm? We’ve got your back.
Federal investigators sniffing around campus? GET OUT!!!
Pitino said the locks to his office were changed before he had a chance to collect all his pictures and memorabilia – and Pitino is not a person who sets aside slights.
On Tuesday the university released a two-page letter with mostly vague accusations that essentially suggested Jurich was the worst thing to happen since the 1937 flood.
Dr. Postel signed the letter, which interjected words like misconduct and intimidation into the conversation. Surely they weren’t trying to bully Jurich while calling him a bully?
If some considered the 773-word grenade a hint the administration was eager to play rough, Jurich’s attorneys responded Wednesday. Sheryl Snider said they were considering a breach of contract suit against U of L as well as other legal options. A deal is a deal – and Jurich had a sweetheart deal that former university president Dr. James Ramsey approved.
About two hours later, Pitino took it up a notch. In an interview with Terry Meiners on WHAS 840, Pitino said that a member of the board of trustees tried to humiliate him, that Dr. Postel was a medical school administrator who would have no idea if the athletic department was compliant with NCAA rules and that the school’s takedown of Jurich was a “witch-hunt of epic proportions.”
And you thought recruiting was a nasty business.
This is what it looks and sounds like when 16- and 20-year relationships end with remarkable abruptness.
Dishes get broken. Locks get changed. Feelings are hurt. It is not pretty. It is not civil. It is not polite. It is expensive.
It is also not surprising, not if you’ve been paying attention. Grissom, the trustee chairman as well as board member John Schnatter have not been as fawning about Pitino or Jurich, their lucrative and lengthy compensation packages or their leadership styles.
Schnatter has been a U of L guy. The name of his pizza company has been on the Cardinals’ football stadium for nearly two decades. Grissom is another community stalwart, admired and feared for his intellect and principles.
What’s next, assuming a steel cage match is out of the question?
Does the school have specific transgressions by Jurich or Pitino to share and pursue? Do the coach and the athletic director have the appetite for a prolonged nasty public fight? When will we hear more from the federal authorities?
Pitino and Jurich are conditioned to winning. So are Grissom, Schnatter and Dr. Postel.
It’s too soon to predict a winner. But the longer and louder this dispute rages, I’m prepared to forecast the loser – it’s the University of Louisville.
- TRANSCRIPT | Rick Pitino says 'outsiders' at U of L 'killed my dreams'
- CRAWFORD | Ready to rumble: Louisville, Jurich trade punches, and everyone loses
- BOZICH | For Rick Pitino, harsh end to Hall of Fame career
- Rick Pitino issues statement as U of L names Padgett interim coach
- Rick Pitino, Tom Jurich placed on leave after latest University of Louisville basketball scandal
- Rick Pitino calls U of L's alleged involvement in federal bribery probe work of 'a few bad actors'
Copyright 2017 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.