Untangling the powerful web surrounding Louisville's Rick Pitino
Stationed at the border of
At his press conference Wednesday, Pitino made no mention of Tatum, of course. The legendary coach spent his time admonishing the media and brushing off the past, calling "everything that has been printed and reported ...
A former student manager under Pitino at the University of Kentucky, Tatum, 34, has worked as the coach's executive assistant for six years and holds the title of "director of the Yum! Center," the two-year-old edifice where Louisville's basketball offices are housed. The native of Harrodsburg, Ky., coordinates Pitino's personal schedule, occasionally serves as his boss' designated driver, determines travel arrangements, and is the point-man whom corporate giants -- Microsoft, for instance -- must contact if they wish to hear Pitino wax poetic on success and "group integrity."
But Tatum is also familiar with gatekeeping of a more literal kind. On the evening of Aug. 1, 2003, he was reportedly the only other person inside Porcini, an upscale Louisville Italian restaurant, as Pitino (married, Catholic, a father of five) had unprotected sex with
So Tatum watched the door for his boss, but he did not quite stand guard -- he had actually "lain down out of site [sic] of [Pitino] and Sypher," according to the
Such details are both lewd and horribly ironic. Yet the involvement of a trusted associate like Tatum is not just some seamy footnote to the incident which now hangs over the Louisville campus like so many "Welcome Students!" banners. In fact, when I visited in the wake of the scandal to
On the afternoon of Aug. 13, 2009, in Room 402B of Louisville family court, Cardinals equipment manager
With custody of his and Karen's four-year-old daughter,
Although Tim claimed at the hearing that he was broke (to quote his lawyer, "there are no assets to fight over in this case"), he also testified that he had recently obtained a 2008 Toyota Tundra from a Toyota of Nicholasville outlet -- one co-owned, as it happens, by a three-man team: Pitino, ex-NBA player
To those who know the men, Sypher's reliance on Pitino goes deeper. One day, during the 1999-2000 NBA season, the
And the most significant thing Rick ever did for Tim, of course, was introduce him to Karen.
Just two weeks after that night at Porcini, Karen had called Pitino to inform him that she was pregnant. She hadn't had sex in the prior eight months, she said, and he had to be the father. The two agreed to meet at Tim Sypher's apartment, with Tim present. Pitino says that he then gave Karen the $3,000 she requested for "health insurance." For her part, Karen told
Shortly thereafter, on Aug. 29, 2003, it was Tim who would be the one to drive Karen across state lines to Cincinnati's Women's Services. The abortion was successfully completed, according to clinic records verified by
While Karen now alleges that Pitino urged and paid Tim Sypher to marry her, a charge Pitino's attorney
From then on, Karen became a visible presence, accompanying Tim to functions in Louisville where Pitino would also be in attendance (apparently without incident). Annabelle was born the year after the wedding.
The baptism certificate from St. Louis Bertrand Catholic Church reads clearly:
Name: Annabelle Denese Sypher
Bluegrass basketball fans have long been familiar with Rev. Ed Bradley. Though his parish is Holy Name of Jesus Roman Catholic Church, out in Henderson, Ky., Bradley is Pitino's close friend and pastor and his basketball team's chaplain, often sitting at the end of the Cardinals bench. Pitino first brought Bradley to the University of Kentucky, and the priest became such a part of the team that former Wildcats center
Kevin Willard and his wife, Julie, are similarly closely connected to Pitino. The head basketball coach at Iona College, Kevin is the son of
Such is the intimacy of Pitino's basketball family. Shortly after arriving at Providence in 1985, where his coaching career truly took off in earnest, Pitino walked up to the blackboard in the Friars locker room and wrote four things: Basketball, School, Work Ethic and Family. He then subjected guard
"Something wonderful happened," Pitino recalls, as described in another one of his books,
Which is all to say that whatever the "indiscretion six years ago" -- or, as Tom Jurich put it to
Karen had gone from a bad decision to a person living right up against the border of Pitino's inner circle, if not inside it altogether.
Along the back hallway at Porcini, right by the bathrooms, a gallery of framed photos decorates the wall. No fewer than six photos currently feature Pitino, including one 8-by-10 shot of him smiling and toasting a glass of wine to the camera. Another set of pictures shows him celebrating a charity golf outing that benefited St. Joseph Children's Home.
Recently, a waiter at the restaurant said he wasn't allowed to comment on what had happened that night in August 2003, but he did say that business, if anything, has since been doing fine and might have even spiked as a result.
For the man in those pictures, however -- whose charity work also includes a foundation dedicated to his son,
Pitino was the wildly successful coach who built a cottage industry around the virtues of family and Catholicism, starting a career in motivational speaking first sparked by an obsession with
None of it will look the same.
"If I'm [Louisville] president
Naturally, rumors fly in Louisville. But Rick Pitino, behind a "1,000 percent vote of confidence" from the University of Louisville administration, will by all accounts keep his job. On Wednesday, as he urged us to "change the channel" and look elsewhere -- anywhere, really, from issues of the economy to the death of
Perhaps no one put it better than Ramsey, the president, who in effect echoed Tim Sypher, and Vinny Tatum, and all the rest earlier this month: "He's our guy."
And what can be more important than that?