CRAWFORD | David Padgett: Looking back, but moving forward after Louisville experience
David Padgett sat down with WDRB News on Monday, talking about the season, his future, the next U of L coach and the former U of L coach he spoke with often during the season.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The first thing I noticed about David Padgett on Monday was the sweater. No Louisville logo. No red and black.
In the days since he learned that his stint as interim basketball coach had ended and he would not be retained by the University of Louisville, he has tried to take it easy, reflect a little and think about his future a lot. It takes some getting used to. Certainly, he said, his oldest son will have more trouble than most.
“The toughest part honestly has been trying to explain to my four-year-old Nolan, all he does is walk around the house and go, C-A-R-D-S, and ask about the Cards and U of L and always walks around and holds up the ‘L,’” Padgett said. “So it’s going to be tough for him to understand that. But hopefully I’ll have a new team for him to cheer for soon and he’ll be excited. But we’re all appreciative of the support we’ve gotten.”
Padgett sat down with WDRB News on Monday, just five days after he met with U of L athletics director Vince Tyra and learned his fate.
“It’s such a results-oriented business that I knew what was coming, so it wasn’t an uncomfortable situation,” Padgett said. “It wasn’t a hostile situation when I spoke with Vince about what the future was. And it was just a situation where you know what’s coming, but until you actually hear the words, it’s tough.”
He and his wife got out of town for a bit. And soon, he’ll be back down to business.
“This weekend I went to Nashville with my wife, got in the car and got out of town for the night, just kind of got away,” he said. “Just trying to figure out what’s next, to be honest, talking to a lot of people, getting ready to go to San Antonio for the Final Four and kind of trying to figure out what’s next. I spent some time last week talking to the players, making sure they’re in a good place, and seeing what they’re thinking, and trying to help Q (Quentin Snider) and Anas (Mahmoud) and making sure they’re in a good place for the next level. But now is just a time to turn my focus to figuring out what I’m going to do. And it’s an answer I probably won’t have quickly.”
He’s hired an agent, and is trying to get his name out there. He’s started to take stock of what he learned over the past season, what worked and what didn’t. His U of L team finished the season as the second-best three-point shooting team, by percentage, in the past 25 years. Same for free-throw percentage.
He said he’s watched a little of the NCAA Tournament, but not a lot. Having not been able to be a part of it this season, makes it tougher to watch.
He’s working through messages from friends, emails that people have sent him – good and bad.
“Well I’ve gotten my fair share of quote-unquote hate mail, there’s no question about that, but that’s part of this profession,” Padgett said. “But the amount of letters and emails I’ve received in the last couple of weeks, people just reaching out with support, 60-year season-ticket holders, or lifelong fans, I even had professors who taught me when I was in school here emailing me. And that kind of stuff really hits home. Would I love to stay here for the rest of my life? Of course I would. I love this place. But I also understand how this profession works.”
Among the people he’s heard from often over the past six months is one who might surprise you. Former Louisville coach Rick Pitino has been in frequent contact with Padgett since the day he took the job.
“We kept in touch throughout the season,” Padgett said. “Coach and I have always been very close and always will be. He’s been a very important figure in my life, not only from a basketball standpoint but a personal standpoint. Our conversations during the year were, after a great win, he would say great job, or after a tough loss he’d say hang in there. Those kinds of things. He’s always going to want what’s best for me, and I’m always going to want what’s best for him. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have been able to handle this year like I did. He taught me a lot not only from a coaching standpoint but from a how-to-handle-adversity standpoint. He was very instrumental in me getting through this year and being fairly successful with the way it went. We never really talked basketball. It was just, good luck with the next one. He actually came into town for my brother-in-law’s funeral, and that obviously meant a lot. So we have just tried to stay close as friends, more than a player-coach, or coach-coach relationship. And we’ll always have that friendship.”
Padgett said he’s learned more lessons than he can count.
“I still beat myself up over the Virginia game a little bit,” he said, “things I could have done differently. . . . But I know playing the what-if game doesn’t do any good. . . . I was speaking to somebody on the phone the other week and they had a pretty good point. They said you have just gained 10 years’ worth of experience in one year. And I never really thought about it like that, but it’s true. My family on both sides had some things to deal with off the court that made everything even tougher. But when you go through adversity, it makes you tougher. . . I ‘ve grown a lot and learned a lot, not only about what to do but what not to do, which sometimes is just as valuable. It was a remarkable six months, it really was.”
Padgett is a U of L alum, and now has sat in the head coaches’ seat for six months in a very tumultuous time. He knows better than anyone the challenges that the next coach will face. I asked him what he thinks the next coach needs to bring to the job.
“I think you’ve got to make sure you get the support o the fans,” Padgett said. “It’s a tough time right now because we’ve just come off, unofficially, a 15-20 year run of incredible success. Regardless of what may or may not have been taken away, the success that this program achieved over the last 15 years has been remarkable. And you’re filling very big shoes, the shoes of a Hall of Fame coach who for 15 years got this program to an elite level. And it’s a pretty interesting time right now. I think the fan support we had during our NIT games shows why this place is what it is, and whoever the next coach is needs to understand that. Now, it’s pressure both ways. It’s pressure to do well, but also pressure to make sure you do things right by the fans. I think whoever the next coach is, I think the one thing they need to understand is that they need to look out for the players ... they need to do right by them, because what those guys have been through the past six months is absolutely incredible. It’s a top 10, top 5 job in the country, no question, even where it is right now, but it’s a situation where if you come in the right way, you’ll be in a position to win.”
Padgett said he doesn’t imagine he would be retained as an assistant at Louisville. Noting, correctly, that it will be up to the next coach, but that to keep someone who had been in a head coaching capacity would be pretty unusual.
As for who the next coach will be, Padgett has seen the reports, like everyone else, that Chris Mack of Xavier is the heir apparent.
“I don’t know Chris,” he said. “We’ve met a couple of times. I don’t know him very well. That’s a decision that only time will tell.. . . I think Chris’ record at Xavier speaks for itself. He’s had a lot of success there. . . . I just hope they bring in someone who understands what this place is all about and will do right by the players.”
People don’t really think about the risk that Padgett undertook when he accepted this job. Sure, it was a great opportunity, a chance to coach an ACC program with an experienced roster. There also was the risk of failure. Maybe the players don’t buy in. Maybe you’re in the position before you’re ready.
Padgett won 22 games. He might’ve won far fewer. What he did do was keep the program from completely running off the rails – which it had every opportunity to do.
“I was fortunate because I had, with the exception of the four freshmen and a couple of other guys, I had guys I had a good relationship with,” Padgett said. “The culture was already established. That I didn’t really have to worry about. . . . Should I have played guys more or less? Sure, but that’s just part of the learning curve. There could’ve been times where they could’ve just said, ‘This isn’t going the way I’d hoped, or this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing,’ and just said, ‘I’m done with this.’ But they didn’t do that. They deserve a lot of credit for that.”
He took some time in the days after meeting with Tyra to tell his players that.
“I just wanted to make sure they knew how much I appreciated their efforts,” he said “We could spend a long time discussing some of the things we faced this year, some of the battles we had mentally and physically as a team, but for them to give me everything they had for six whole months was just incredible.”
Now Padgett is hoping to give himself to another job – hopefully one with a bit less turmoil.
“I don’t know if I’ll be a better coach, per se, but I’ll be better suited to handle adversity,” he said. “Just because there were so many things that were thrown at us. . . . It’s kind of been a rare year so far, because there hasn’t been a whole lot of change in the coaching profession, so the dominos haven’t fallen quite as much as they have in years past. But you’ve just got to get out there and just market yourself.”
So he’ll search long and hard for a handful of shirts that don’t have the Louisville logo and head to San Antonio on a mission to make friends and influence athletic directors. And he’ll head to Texas with a story to tell, of a season like nobody else had in college basketball, or has ever had, for that matter.
He’s putting away the Louisville gear, but he’s holding tight to the Louisville memories. That was his final message to fans on Monday.
“Well, thank you would be the biggest thing, not only for the players but for the fan base,” Padgett said. “The amount of support they’ve shown for these players through a very tough year. They never gave up on us. Was I surprised? No. I told our players at the beginning of the season this fan base would rally around them like no other. . . . The fan base here is just one of a kind. I’ll believe it till the day I die, that’s what makes Louisville Louisville. It’s a special place, and one that I will always hold very fondly and close to my heart.”
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