The Controversial Rick Pitino
Pitino’s troubles with the NCAA date all the way back to his first head coaching job at Hawaii. Pitino was accused of providing round-trip airfare for a player between New York and Honolulu, giving free food coupons to players and arranging for players to exchange season tickets for used cars. Pitino denied the reports in 1989, saying “I didn’t make any mistakes, I don’t care what anyone says.”
After leaving Hawaii, Pitino took head coaching jobs at Boston University and Providence College before landing in New York as coach of the Knicks. He stayed for two seasons before leaving for Kentucky, where he led the Wildcats to the 1996 National Title.
In 1997, the Boston Celtics signed Pitino to a 10-year, $70 million deal to be coach, general manager and president of the Celtics. In doing so, Pitino demoted Celtics legend Red Auerbach from president to a mostly ceremonial role as vice chairman. This did not sit well with fans.
Pitino compiled a 102-146 record. He famously lashed out at fans during a March 2000 press conference, saying "Larry Bird is not walking through that door. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door. Robert Parish is not walking through that door." Pitino resigned from Boston midway through the 2000-01 season.
After leaving Boston, Pitino took a head coaching job at Louisville and led the Cardinals to the 2005 Final Four. In early 2009, Karen Sypher accused Pitino of raping her twice when they had been drinking at a restaurant. Soon after, Pitino received threatening phone calls from Sypher and “possible others.” The calls continued in the following weeks and Pitino contacted authorities in late March.
Sypher was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison for extortion and lying to the FBI. Pitino, however, did admit to having sex with Sypher at this Lousiville restaurant.
Despite the negative press from the affair, Pitino stayed on as coach of the Cardinals.
A former escort, Katina Powell alleges in her book “Breaking Cardinal Rules” that Andre McGee, a former player and then-assistant coach, paid prostitutes and strippers $10,000 over four years to have sex and dance with Louisville players and recruits. Pitino claims he knew nothing about the controversy.
In early 2016, the president of Louisville announced a one-year postseason ban Friday for the Cardinals men’s basketball team amid ongoing investigations into a sex scandal. The decision was a surprise to Pitino.
Pitino says the school’s self-imposed ban is enough punishment for the violation and says he does not expect NCAA punishment.
In June 2017, the NCAA charged Pitino with failure to monitor his basketball program, which was involved in a sex-for-pay scandal. He was suspended for the first five games of the ACC season in 2017–18.
This week, the Department of Justice charged 10 people in conjunction with a corruption and fraud scheme. They also implicated the Cardinals program in the illegal payment of a recruit. Pitino was immediately placed on unpaid administrative leave.