Rick Pitino was fed up.
Over the course of the last three months, ever since Katina Powell’s book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen,” was published, the Louisville head coach has been at the epicenter of a firestorm that isn’t going to stop burning until he’s no longer roaming the Yum! Center sidelines.
For four years, a Louisville staff member named Andre McGee had allegedly been throwing parties for recruits that included strippers and hookers in Billy Minardi Hall, a building that Pitino had named after his brother-in-law that died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Pitino has maintained that he knew nothing about the allegations, that there was no way that he would allow that to happen in his program, in that dorm.
And for three months, he’s been taken to task for that stance, getting clobbered by the local — and national — media. Some have said that there’s no possible way he didn’t know. Some have said that not knowing, failing to properly oversee his program, is just as bad as actually knowing what was happening. Some have said that he should step down. Some have called for him to be fired.
Nowhere in the world is as passionate about college basketball as the state of Kentucky, and there are very few, in any, rivalries that are filled with more hatred than the one between Wildcat and Cardinal fans. Pitino heard and read about it everywhere. So did his family, his coaching staff, his players.
He couldn’t escape it, not in Louisville.
And just when the scandal finally looked like it was dying down, when his team seemed like it would be good enough to make people focus on a potential ACC title race, Pitino went and threw gasoline on the embers, appearing to flip-off Kentucky fans after a loss in Rupp Arena and before skipping the postgame press conference.
On Friday, Pitino met with the media for the first time since the head Cardinal flipped the bird, and after getting asked a question about the veracity of those allegations — Pitino said “I did not” flip off the fans — he spent the next 15 minutes on a tangent, discussing the allegations levied by Katina Powell, how it’s been covered by the media and why he decided not to go to the post-Kentucky press conference.
(You can watch the full interview, courtesy of the Louisville Courier-Journal.)
Perhaps most notable was that Pitino acknowledged, for the first time publicly, that he believes that McGee did something wrong.
“Now, did one person do some scurrilous things? I believe so,” Pitino said. “From what I know now, I believe so. The only thing I don’t know, I don’t know why he did it. I just, for the life of me, can’t figure out — he knew better, he was taught better, by his parents and by me.”
He did not, however, cop to knowing anything about the allegations that were levied, specifically targeting Rick Bozich, a sports columnist for WRDB in Louisville that has been covering the program for a long time. Bozich wrote that he didn’t believe it was possible Pitino was truly in the dark because of how meticulously the coach keeps an eye over his program.
“Soon as this happened, I went ballistic on everybody,” Pitino said. “‘Wait a second. You didn’t know one, single thing?’ The security person. ‘You never saw a thing in four years and you worked for four years around the clock?’ No. Well the answer’s obvious isn’t it, Rick, isn’t the answer obvious? The reason that nobody saw anything, they knew that all hell would break loose if I found out that one, single thing was going on. That would be the obvious thing to me.”
“I guarantee if a chair gets broken at Minardi Hall and I find out about it, there’s going to be a problem,” Pitino added. “So you can bet if something like that was going on I’d be the last to find out about it, Because all hell would pay. Right away. The moment it happened. All hell would pay.”
I actually believe this. Rick Pitino is not a dumb human being, and what is alleged in the book to have taken — getting that woman to bring those girls into that dorm — is incredibly stupid. There is no way Pitino would have allowed his name to be attached to this in any way, not after what he went through with the Karen Sypher trial.
And while Pitino did acknowledge that something probably did happen in that dorm, he took issue with the details that were laid out in the book. He referenced a meeting that took place between Louisville director of compliance John Carns and sports information director Kenny Klein and the publishers of Powell’s book. In that meeting, they discussed the veracity of the journal that Powell kept which was used as the source material for the book, which was written by a former investigative reporter.
“No, no, we wrote it. She can’t complete two sentences the right way to write a book,” the publishers said of the journal, according to Pitino and Klein, who was on the podium with him. “So you mean to tell me a book was written, a four-year record was kept? There was no four-year record. You’ve got to be kidding me. So nobody goes after, ESPN doesn’t go after, are you telling the truth? Did you keep a four year journal? Did you write it? Or was it written just to get this book out?”
This was the frustration that has been building for Pitino, who admitted that he had been told by the NCAA not to comment on the matter, that his public statements were intimidating witnesses. That’s why he skipped ACC Media Day. That’s why he decided to skip the post-Kentucky press conference.
“I wasn’t doing the press conference because it’s a very emotional game for me,” he said. “When we go into a press conference in a neighborhood like that, I don’t want to hear about the scandal, OK? I don’t want to hear about that. That has bothered me every single night.”
But the criticism he received for doing so led him to speak out on Friday.
“I’m not going to say no comment. I’m not going to say it. I’m too old. I don’t care, OK? So I’m not going to say it. There’s only one good thing about being 63, is you don’t care what people think anymore.”