LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Ousted University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the school’s athletics board Thursday, claiming he is owed $4.3 million per year over the next nine years.  

U of L’s athletics association did not comply with the terms of Pitino’s employment contract, including giving proper notice, when the ex-coach was placed on leave and later fired, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville.

The university is aware of the lawsuit but does not comment on ongoing litigation, spokesman John R. Karman III said.  

Pitino was fired Oct. 16, less than three weeks after federal investigators tied the U of L program to a scheme to pay recruits. By dismissing him “for cause,” the school maintains it owes the coach none of the more than $40 million in compensation left on his contract.

But Pitino’s attorneys argue in the lawsuit that, regardless of the rationale, Pitino’s contract required the athletics association to give the ex-coach 10 days “prior written notice and an opportunity to be heard” before handing down any discipline.

U of L cited the pay-for-play allegations exposed by the FBI as one reason for firing him. But the lawsuit claims there is nothing in the criminal complaint unsealed in late September that ties Pitino to any improper activities.

“Coach Pitino had no part — active, passive, or through willful ignorance — in the conspiracy described in the Complaint,” the lawsuit says. “Coach Pitino never has had any part — active, passive, or through willful ignorance — in any effort, successful or unsuccessful, completed or abandoned, to pay any recruit, or any family member of a recruit, or anyone else on a recruit’s behalf, as an inducement to attend the University of Louisville.”

Indeed, the lawsuit reiterates Pitino's position that he was not aware of the alleged actions described in the federal complaint. Documents filed in federal court in New York allege that at least one U of L coach took part in a plan to send money from apparel company Adidas to prospective players.

Federal investigators claim they have phone records showing that Jim Gatto, the global marketing manager for Adidas, and a coach believed to be Pitino, had conversations on May 27 and twice on June 1. Two days later, Brian Bowen, a highly touted recruit who had up to that point shown little interest in U of L, committed to the team.

Then, on July 27, a U of L assistant coach met in a Las Vegas hotel room with one of the defendants in the federal complaint, Christian Dawkins, an undercover federal agent, a cooperating witness and another defendant, Jonathan Brad Augustine. The meeting was video recorded by the FBI.

The complaint alleges Dawkins said that he had called the coach believed to be Pitino, identified as "Coach-2," and told him, “I need you to call Jim Gatto,” to secure additional funding for a recruit.

In the lawsuit filed Thursday, Pitino's attorneys, Steve Pence and Kurt Scharfenberger, argue there are no allegations that the calls were "anything but entirely innocent, and no allegation that they had anything to do with an improper scheme."

"At no time did Coach Pitino and Gatto discuss — overtly, covertly, in code, through nuance, or in any other way — the provision of improper benefits to any UL basketball player or recruit," the lawsuit says.

The attorneys also pushed back against U of L's other reasons for firing Pitino: His handling of an escort scandal that led to NCAA sanctions last June and his failure to let university athletics compliance staff know Dawkins was on campus last May. 

U of L interim President Greg Postel previously said that Pitino "could not have known about the illicit activities," and the lawsuit says nothing occurred between the date of the federal complaint and the university's October 4 termination letter to "justify a change in that position." 

The lawsuit also says the escort scandal occurred during Pitino's prior contract, which was dated July 1, 2012. At the time of his firing, Pitino was working under a contract that began July 1, 2015.

Pitino attorneys also claim Dawkins was not an agent during his visit to campus, which was "completely in compliance with University and NCAA rules and regulations." 

Pitino is seeking a judge to rule that U of L breached his contract and damages of nearly $40 million through June 2026 or unspecified damages that include the value of his now-voided endorsement deal with Adidas. Pitino also has sued the apparel maker in federal court in Kentucky. 

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