LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville's athletics board on Monday voted to start the process of firing Hall of Fame basketball coach Rick Pitino, less than a week after a federal investigation alleged his program was involved in paying recruits.
The panel met for two hours behind closed doors before making its unanimous decision. During the meeting, the university confirmed that an attorney for Pitino had delivered a letter accusing U of L of violating the coach's contract.
U of L interim President Greg Postel did not elaborate on the discussions in the closed session, but he said "there's always vigorous conversations."
"People want to understand the situation," he told reporters after the meeting. "They want to know all the information that is available at this point so they can make an informed decision."
Pitino was suspended last Wednesday. In a letter that same day, Postel and U of L Board of Trustees chairman J. David Grissom informed Pitino he was being placed on leave immediately with 10 days' pay, noting that the violations alleged in court documents in U.S. District Court in New York were a material violation of his contract.
The letter, which U of L made public Monday, says the accusations against his staff are “disturbing and unprecedented in (their) allegations of willful misconduct, violations of NCAA Bylaws, and dishonesty, and serve to severely damage the reputation of the University of Louisville.”
The criminal complaint claims at least one unnamed U of L basketball coach was complicit in a plan to funnel $100,000 from a company known to be Adidas, U of L's official apparel provider, to the family of a prized basketball recruit over the summer in violation of NCAA rules.
For his part, Pitino appears ready to fight his ouster.
Earlier Monday, Pitino attorney Steve Pence served the university with a breach of contract notice that alleges U of L failed to properly notify Pitino and to give him a chance to respond when it placed him on leave last week.
According to Pitino's contract, for U of L to fire or place him on leave, the university must first give him at least 10 days’ written notice of its reasons for doing so and let Pitino “present evidence" in response.
Only the board of the U of L Athletics Association – or a committee of that board – can make the decision to fire Pitino, according to his contract.
Postel declined to say whether he believes Pitino – alleged to be the “Coach-2” the feds describe as helping facilitate the Adidas payments – had knowledge of the misconduct described in the criminal complaint.
“I’m not prepared to comment yet,” on that question, Postel told reporters after the board's decision Monday afternoon.
And he declined to discuss the reasons for Pitino's termination, but said he would be sending Pitino a letter of explanation.
Postel said Pitino will not be paid anything more than the 10 days of pay already promised to him when he was placed on administrative leave last week.
Pitino is under contract through 2026 with a base salary of more than $2 million a year plus bonuses.
Asked if he were concerned that Pitino would file a lawsuit against the school, Postel said, "That's always a possibility."
In an interview before the athletic association met, Pence would not comment on whether Pitino is "Coach-2," as several publications have reported.
However, Pence said Pitino "is not a target of an investigation.”
Asked how Pitino is doing, Pence said “he’s pretty much in shock about what’s happened.”
On Friday, assistant coach David Padgett was named interim head coach.
Postel said he plans to meet with other coaches at the university on Tuesday; on Monday, several coaches took to Twitter after they meet and expressed unanimous support for athletics director Tom Jurich, whom the university suspended last week.
"I certainly understand the loyalty of these coaches," Postel told reporters. "I don't hold that against them. I mean, these people know each other, they work together, they were recruited by him. And so I completely understand that."
Postel left open the possibility that Tom Jurich could return to his position, though he shed little light on Jurich's chances of surviving the latest scandal.
Postel noted that Jurich has not been fired, so it’s possible he can come back to the job.
“That’s an option for anyone who’s on an administrative leave,” Postel said.
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