Do you think Kentucky fans would welcome Rick Pitino visits back to Rupp?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Rick Pitino has moved on with life, to some degree. He still wants to coach. You’d better believe, he still can coach. More than a year after his firing by the University of Louisville, no smoking gun has been discovered, no witness to say he orchestrated many of the things for which he is being punished.
If anything, he is in basketball exile because a program imploded – off the court – on his watch. That’s enough for most athletics directors and general managers to be wary. And that's quite understandable.
Maybe time will ease that reluctance. In the meantime, he is doing a podcast (latest guest, Lesley Visser), he is visiting programs that invite him to come in, meeting with coaches and players, and waiting for lifelines back into the game.
Who would have thought, one such overture would come from Kentucky? The school honored the 1993 Final Four team during Saturday’s victory over Utah. Two key people from that group, however, were missing. Jamal Mashburn couldn’t come. And Rick Pitino had some family things going on and couldn’t come. But there’s also been some concern in the past over whether he should.
It’s a tough decision. Do you go back, knowing that whatever the crowd’s response is – good or bad – is going to be the story, your return will be the story, swallowing up what the event was supposed to be about in the first place.
Nonetheless, UK coach John Calipari reached out to Pitino and encouraged him to come back. And Pitino, on Saturday, Tweeted out his support of the 1993 team and thanked Calipari for his offer.
Congrats 93 UK team! Proud of you guys and love the hell out of you. Thx Cal for reaching out. Much appreciated.— Rick Pitino (@RealPitino) December 15, 2018
After Kentucky beat Utah 88-61, Calipari was asked about the whole thing, and said he thinks Pitino should come back, and that he thinks fans will react with appreciation.
“He was with family and he had things going on. But you know, I just said, ‘Look, you need to get up here.’ They will be respectful here, and you know, what that program did to change this back, you know, I mean, we should recognize it,” Calipari said. “They may be mad he went to coach at Louisville. So what? When he was here and when we needed this program on a different track, he put it, and that (1993) group -- and I thanked that group last night: ‘You guys got this thing back going, you guys did.’
“You know, I just, like I said, I'd like him to come back and let him -- you know, one of the happiest things for me is when I see how Coach (Joe B.) Hall is treated here. He's treated like royalty. I love it when he goes out on the court. I love to see him in practice and I love how our fans treat him.”
Calipari said he thinks time will heal any wounds between Pitino and the fan base. His thought on that isn’t without merit. Who would have thought Hall and Crum would’ve wound up with a radio show together and become such good friends.
Maybe things with Pitino are different, but Calipari said he still thinks it’s worth considering a thaw.
“My guess is, back in the day, they probably weren't as friendly, okay, (to Hall),” Calipari said. “But now they look at it and say, you know what, who would have followed Adolph Rupp? Who is stupid enough to do that? He was. He went to Final Fours, won national titles. Think about it. And now, what Rick did, you know, like I said, he deserves to be able to, you know, get the respect from what he did here, and I think our fans would be great. You know, he may not think that, but I'm convinced that if he came back, that the fans would be great to him.”
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