Despite presiding over a program that has been engulfed in multiple scandals in recent years, former Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he had no knowledge of the activity that ultimately led to his firing.
"I feel awful for what has happened," Pitino said at a press conference at the Greenberg Traurig law firm in Midtown Manhattan on Wednesday. "I've run a clean program all my life."
Louisville was heavily implicated in the FBI's multi-year probe into college basketball recruiting tactics. Specifically, Pitino is accused of knowing about a $100,000 payment made by Adidas representatives to the family of five-star recruit Brian Bowen to secure his commitment to Louisville. Pitino addressed that accusation directly.
"In 40 years of coaching, I have never been involved, directly or indirectly, in any effort to pay any money or extend any improper benefit to any recruit or recruit's family members or representatives," Pitino said, per ESPN's Jeff Borzello.
Pitino was officially fired by Louisville on Oct. 16, and the scandal also led to the firing of athletic director Tom Jurich. Louisville has said it fired Pitino with just cause, which would mean the university does not have to pay the rest of his contract, which is around $36 million. Pitino is suing the university for the money left on his contract, with the crux of the lawsuit being that he was unaware of the activities happening in his program.
Louisville—nor any of the other schools implicated in the FBI's findings—have been formally punished yet, as the investigation remains ongoing. But there is an expectation that multiple top-level programs, almost certainly including Louisville, will be disciplined in due time.
The latest recruiting scandal is not the first time Pitino's Louisville program has been in headlines for the wrong reasons. In 2009, Pitino admitted to having consensual sex with a woman who then extorted him. Six years later, a woman detailed illegal activities that went on at parties thrown for Louisville recruits. The program levied a self-imposed postseason ban for the 2016 season, and Pitino was later suspended for five games for failing to aptly monitor the program.
On Tuesday, the NCAA ruled that Louisville had to vacate its 2013 national championship as well as 123 wins across four seasons in which ineligible athletes competed. This is the first time in history that a Division I national basketball championship has been vacated, and Pitino said he vehemently disagrees with the ruling and thinks Louisville should file an injunction with the NCAA.
"How do you take down a championship? They've earned it," he said, per ESPN. "You need to get an injunction. The NCAA, they have total autonomy. I'm sure Notre Dame is not going to let it happen, and neither should the University of Louisville, in my opinion. I wish I could do it. Unfortunately, I'm defenseless."
Pitino, 65, coached Louisville for 16 seasons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013. He led the Cardinals to three Elite Eights, two Final Fours and one National Championship, but because of the NCAA's ruling, only one Elite Eight appearance remains in the record books—the other two, as well as the Final Fours and the lone national championship, are no longer official.