The Assistants

Thought this was a decent shot of Louisville assistant coaches Luke Murray, Dino Gaudio and Mike Pegues.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The goals for Louisville men’s basketball are not lofty these days. Keep your head down and follow NCAA rules. Try to win an NCAA Tournament game (today marks 1,525 days since the program last did that). Just, you know, try to keep the program between the lines -- and by that I mean to generate headlines on the basketball court, not in federal court.

Perhaps that is too much to ask.

Say this for the former U of L regimes -- they paid people off without having to be extorted (most of the time). And sure, they may have dragged the university through the mud from a public relations standpoint, but at least they won a lot of games (*later vacated).

This latest chapter in the U of L men’s basketball soap opera, by comparison, is amateur hour. Former assistant Dino Gaudio, angry at being let go by a guy he coached and mentored and left a good ESPN job to assist, tries to play hardball and allegedly winds up threatening to go public with low-level NCAA violations if he isn’t paid -- all while head coach Chris Mack is recording the conversation.

Gaudio is, truly, a nice guy. But clearly, extortion is not his strength. He didn’t game plan this one all the way through.

He brought a recruiting video to a gunfight. He says U of L was using videos that were somehow not allowed under NCAA rules to recruit (in a time when no in-person contact was possible). He says the program was using graduate assistants to fill out practices (in a time when the program was repeatedly sidelined for COVID issues).

We don’t yet know if there are other allegations. There might well be.

The last thing I’m going to do is gloss over violations for a program that ought to have zero, given the NCAA hammer it is living under. But this kind of Level II or III thing is not the kind of thing that strikes fear into anyone.

Which is why I can’t understand going to the FBI with this behavior from Gaudio. If I’m Mack, I try to figure out a way to smooth this over without involving the courts or the cops. Unless there’s more to this story than we know.

If Gaudio’s game plan here was stupid, U of L’s isn’t much easier to grasp.

Nothing draws more attention, and a bigger microscope, than a court proceeding, especially if you’re U of L. If this thing proceeds, we’re going to see everything, and more. We’re going to hear Mack’s recording of Gaudio’s threats. We’re going to see the recruiting video. We’re probably going to see a lot more. Rick Pitino, let’s remember, won his extortion trial (actually, let’s be more accurate, Karen Sypher lost it), but not before every cringeworthy detail of an extramarital affair was laid bare in open court.

So I don’t get it. Why put the program -- and the university -- through another federal court case?

I’m in the media. If Gaudio comes to me with evidence of graduate assistants taking part in practice, that alone is not a story -- or at least, not much of a story -- against the rules or not. It’s a pandemic. Everybody is just trying to get by. The recruiting videos are probably a story, but unless the star of them is Stormy Daniels or similar, it’s hardly going to make many waves. It would seem easier just to have Snoop Dogg come do a concert and call it a day.

(In fact, this whole thing has a bad comedy feel to it. Call it “Old School 2.” I keep expect Vince Vaughn to roll in and try to steal Mack’s audio recording, or Will Farrell to run through the quad naked.)

If I’m Mack and I’m secure in the running of my program, I invite Gaudio to go ahead and release his information if he wants to. Just tell him you’re sorry, but the last of the hush money budget was spent in a settlement with the old athletic director. Any more that might’ve been left is owed to the old football coach. Thanks for your service and best of luck. We’ll do lunch sometime.

Instead, early on a Tuesday morning, U of L had to call its board of trustees to campus (or to Zoom) to explain why the school is going to be in the national headlines again for dysfunction in its men’s basketball program.

Maybe this couldn’t be helped. You know, maybe the school had lengthy discussions with Gaudio, and he persisted in this misguided (and illegal) line of attack. Maybe it tried to let cooler heads prevail, but they just couldn’t.

I hope that’s the case. I like to think that going to the FBI, having agents show up to interview yet another former basketball assistant, was a last resort.

Because while a good many fans will rally to the defense of the university and its basketball program almost no matter what, this whole storyline further dings the public image of its basketball program, like it or not. And it is not a popular look for coaches in other sports who are affected by what happens with men’s basketball.

Assistant coaches come and go all the time. And Mack, let’s be clear, has a right to hire and fire whoever he wants. That’s part of his job. He gets to pick. Luke Murray’s dismissal and departure wasn’t what you’d call harmonious, but it managed to happen without getting the FBI involved. So it’s not like Mack was out to inflict damage on these guys. He was just exercising his right to make a change.

It’s just unfortunate that this thing with Gaudio had to go where it finally did. Because once it has gotten this far, nobody wins.

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