LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Friday was a long day. It was a long day for Chris Mack, and for Vince Tyra. It was an especially long day for Dino Gaudio. And it was probably a long day for University of Louisville basketball fans, who just want this kind of reality show to stop, to be able to change assistant coaches without it becoming a federal case or an expletive-laced secretly recorded audio.
There have been other long days around here. The FBI showing up on campus. An obscure business publisher in Indianapolis announcing it was putting out a book by a woman who claimed to have provided prostitutes for Louisville basketball recruits. The day Rick Pitino was let go. The day Tom Jurich and the university parted ways.
Take your pick.
On Friday, the university took the rare step of suspending its head basketball coach without pay for the season's first six games. The announcement came just two hours before his former assistant, Dino Gaudio, was sentenced to a year of probation and a $10,000 fine for an attempt to extort him after Mack informed him in March that he would not be retained.
What followed, well, we all know what followed. What we don't know is what the heck happened on Friday, and what led up to it? This stuff doesn't just crop up all of a sudden.
I suppose the best way to unpack all this is to just start opening the boxes and exploring what's in there.
What follows is pieced together from multiple unnamed sources, and from public comments of those involved directly on Friday. Even so, let's couch the conclusions you read here as my opinions and analysis on what I have seen and heard:
BOX No. 1: Behind-the-scenes maneuvers.
A move like this doesn't happen unilaterally. It is not the work of one person. It happens through a conversation (some might call it a negotiation) between U of L president Neeli Bendapudi, members of the board of trustees, athletics director Vince Tyra and members of his staff and the athletics association.
Over the past several weeks, some trustees have been increasingly dissatisfied with Mack's role in the extortion incident – though not necessarily his taping of the conversation or even his decision to cut loose two top assistants. But they are, sources say, unhappy with some of the things Mack said on the tape, and that the first version of the tape Mack shared, apparently, may not have been a complete version.
When pressed for reasons for the suspension, Tyra offered that Mack's decision to inform the assistants that they would not be renewed without a staff member present in the room was not in keeping with university policy or best practices.
But that's not the stuff of a six-game suspension.
Also of concern, according to multiple sources, was one passage on the audio, in which Gaudio was reiterating that he was going public with NCAA violation allegations unless he was paid, and Mack responded.
Gaudio: Tell me how you’re paying me. That’s the s--- that’s going to happen or else this is happening. . . .
Mack: I give you my word, which you may not think means anything, but that’s going to happen. But, like, what assurances do I have?
Look, that's far from culpability. Mack knows he's taping the conversation. It's fair to say he sought to draw Gaudio out. He told him more than once to "sit down." He did everything but ask him to lean a little closer to the microphone.
But that question, "What assurances do I have?" sounds like the question of a guy who wants to keep things under wraps.
Make a note: Secretly taping a conversation is not a good way to keep things under wraps.
The bottom line is that none of it was the best look for either guy, or the university.
Suffice it to say, the higher-ups aren't thrilled, nor are they happy with what Gaudio's allegations dredged up. The investigation into this matter has been a university operation. In fact, sources close to the investigation say it was a university decision, not an athletic department decision, to turn the Gaudio matter over to authorities. The NCAA has investigated Gaudio's allegations, and the school awaits notice on those.
That's quite a bit packed into a single box. On to the next one.
BOX No. 2: Vince Tyra's day.
"Certainly one of my worst days here, I can assure you,” Tyra told reporters. “Makes my hair either turn gray or turn loose, one of the two or both, but nonetheless, we know we've got the announcement out today.”
No athletic director, anywhere, is going to suspend his head basketball coach for six games to start the season unless he's given no choice. Unless the offense is so terrible that it's a no-brainer call.
Tyra couldn't even give a detailed explanation for why a six-game suspension was needed. He said what he could say. He said it was a collaborative process. He took the responsibility and said the call ultimately was his.
I'm sorry, with a team with eight new players and two new assistants, not to mention a head coach who has just had a disgruntled former employee try to extort him, I don't for a minute believe that Tyra was out front urging a suspension. Everything I have seen from him suggests a leader who would want any discipline, if it had to be handed out, handled internally. The last thing you want to project is instability.
Barring that, I think he handled the situation that fell to him pretty elegantly. He and Mack couched the coach's actions as "unintentional." He left room for Mack to save some face, and he gave some higher ups who had a hand in the decision some cover.
He did the job he was supposed to do. I just wonder what impact this crazy-ville experience will have on his future at the school. Financially, he doesn’t need the job. His signed a five-year contract in 2018 that has not been extended.
A lot of guys say, "I don't need this." He's a guy who can actually mean it.
Or, perhaps he has helped this blow over a bit, and Mack will be able to recover and win.
Still the message a suspension sends is pretty clear. There's something to be said for Louisville taking a no-nonsense stand against rule-breaking. But it can't completely define the rule-breaking here, and explicitly says it does not involve NCAA matters. So again, what is the message?
BOX No. 3: Chris Mack.
I have no idea. Being suspended in this way doesn't give you a warm and fuzzy feeling about what kind of backing you have. If you get six games for this, then what is it going to be if the NCAA returns a Level 2 violation, for which you can be fired for cause?
And that tape, man.
Here's Mack: "I love you, man. I know you don’t believe me. I love you. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m not trying to f--- your livelihood up. Dude, I’ll take it out of my own personal money."
I'm sorry, it's the, "It's not you, it's me," speech. How is this not a meme yet?
Six games without pay for Mack is, according to university estimates, about $221,000, which is not quite all of the $250,000 raise that kicked in under the terms of his contract in June.
The bigger problem here, for him, is the games he'll be missing. Those are games where he's building some chemistry with his new team, getting a feel for who can do what. It's a trip to the Bahamas that the team will be making without a single game of college head-coaching experience anywhere on the bench.
At the very least, Mack didn’t read the room well with Gaudio. And while Gaudio did extort him – without question – Mack is paying a high price for that Godfather-esque showdown depicted in the audio.
And for the fact that the audio exists.
BOX No. 4. Wait, this is just from Amazon. I must be just about done.
On Monday afternoon, a bunch of former U of L players will descend on campus to share their thoughts with Bendapudi, Tyra and Mack in yet another initiative from the university side to improve relations. I'm sure a good time will be had by all.
The players don't feel like they're being heard. They want more black coaches and black administrators in senior leadership. Justifiably, Mack and Tyra feel they have done more outreach to former players than perhaps any U of L athletics director and coach ever have. Stay tuned.
How do I wrap this up? Everybody, it seems, wants a piece of the program. What everyone might not notice is that the program isn’t as big as it used to be. It wasn't ranked in the Top 25 in the preseason, and nobody asked, "Where's Louisville?" Attendance was declining even before COVID.
How does all this get fixed? The quickest way is this:
Win. A lot. Like, beat everybody.
Short of that, I don't expect this roller coaster ride is over yet.
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