Publish date:

Rick Pitino's actions prove winning comes before morality for coaches


Sometimes, instead of coming up with a snazzy lead or some half-baked metaphor, the best thing a writer can do is be straight, blunt and to the point.

Hence, this:

If you are a parent, and your son is considering an offer to play basketball at the University of Louisville, you need to reconsider.

Really, you do.

I know ... I know. Rick Pitino rebuilds programs, wins championships and turns out pros. That, there's no denying. But Rick Pitino also cheated on his wife and five children in a restaurant with a woman (who in a strange twist of fate later became his co-worker's wife), and gave said woman $3,000 -- which depending on whose side you believe, to have an abortion (her claim) or buy health insurance (his).

Oh, then he "mans up" (the most meaningless phrase in the history of sports vernacular) and admits to his transgressions ... six years later after she allegedly attempts to extort $10 million from him.

Technically speaking, having sex with a woman who is not your wife in a restaurant is not a fire-able offense. Heck, I certainly know people who have committed infidelity (though, in their defense, never in a closed restaurant). What's different here, however, is that Pitino's dubious actions fly in the face of everything a college coach is supposed to be.

Or, once upon a time, was supposed to be.

Not all that long ago, we expected more from our college coaches. They came into living rooms while we were still in high school, looked parents in the eyes and told them -- promised them -- that they were more than mere basketball instructors. "I will treat your son as I would my own," the line went. "I'll teach him about life, not just sports."

Sure, there was a good amount of salesmanship to the whole process; an unspoken need to woo Mom and Dad with talk of academics and social goodness. But there was also truth. From John Wooden and John Thompson to Lou Carnesecca and Dean Smith, college basketball coaches saw themselves as much life gurus as hoops gurus. They wanted to mold men; to be certain that their players' existences after sports were equally enriching and productive.

SI Recommends

Now, well, whatever.

What's sad about the latest Pitino bombshell is that, if we're being honest, it's not much of a bombshell at all. In the modern era of sports-as-big-business, our expectations are jarringly low. We expect our heroes and role models to use steroids and fight dogs and cheat on their families in a restaurant. We expect their apologists (in this case, Dr. James Ramsey, Louisville's president) to show all the backbone of a snail ("Rick Pitino is the University of Louisville's basketball coach. He has been a role model for countless young people and a positive influence on this community."). We expect, well, nothing. We no longer have expectations. None. Zero.

Just last week, before the Pitino news had blown up, a colleague asked me to rank the following professions in order of sliminess.

• Politician.

• Boxing promoter.

• Division I college coach.

• Strip club proprietor.

• Pimp.

I was stumped. Politicians are slimy (perhaps the slimiest of all), but they can also accomplish great things. Strip club proprietors are slimy, but technically it's an honest business. Pimps are slimy, but they tend to wear cool hats. I found myself torn. That said, when one signs with a Don King or Bob Arum, he tends to know what he's getting into. Boxing promoters wear their slime on their sleeves, a badge of honor in a sport dripping with the stuff.

College coaches, however, do absolutely everything to hide the reality. They flash winning smiles, wear designer suits, toss around the phrase "student-athlete" as if it possesses more than an ounce of genuine meaning. They are used car salesmen, peddling the concepts of "team" and "community" and "family" while negotiating a $5 million personal services contract with Reebok or Nike. Think Tim Floyd. Think John Calipari. Think Jim Harrick. Think Pitino. If there is anything to be learned from the modern big-time college coach, it is that morality -- like parachute pants and Laura Brannigan LPs -- is an outdated concept.

Do as you must. Behave as you will. Act as you act.

Just keep winning.