The recruiting scandal at the University of Louisville may be the biggest story in college sports right now, but this isn’t the first time men’s basketball head coach Rick Pitino has been in hot water.
For over four decades, the 1987 NABC Coach of the Year has been one of the most highly regarded coaches in the game, assembling championship-caliber squads in multiple conferences and across multiple eras. But he’s also demonstrated a tendency to find himself on the wrong side of the NCAA’s investigative arm.
Below, check out the greatest and most scandalous moments from one of college basketball’s most controversial careers.
Rick Pitino was a standout high school point guard from Long Island when he committed to the University of Massachusetts in 1970. With 329 career assists, he still ranks as one of the top passers in program history.
Para festejar el número 1 de Louisville,os pongo esta foto del gran Rick Pitino (época de jugador en Massachusetts) pic.twitter.com/zMEtw1zO
— Hugo Álvarez (@hugoaf155) January 14, 2013
Soon after his graduation in 1974, Pitino started as an assistant coach at the University of Hawaii. A 1977 NCAA report linked him to eight different violations, including paying for round-trip airfare for one of his players and distributing McDonald’s coupons to the team.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 18, 2016
Source: The New York Times
While Hawaii was placed on two years’ probation, Pitino later denied his role in the violations. “I didn’t make any mistakes,” he said of his time in Honolulu. “I don’t care what anybody says.”
Source: The New York Times
Pitino left Hawaii after the 1977 season and quickly gained fame for his success as a head coach. He led Boston University to a rare NCAA Tournament appearance in 1978 and took Providence all the way to the Final Four in 1987. He also coached the New York Knicks for two seasons.
In 1989, Pitino took over as head coach at the University of Kentucky, which was on NCAA probation due to a recruiting scandal. There, Pitino established himself as a major figure in college basketball, assembling a number of fast-paced, 3-and-D teams that achieved tremendous success. He won his first national championship in 1996.
Pitino jumped to the NBA again in 1997, when he was named head coach of the Boston Celtics. The nature of the professional game and the often grouchy local fans were constant sources of frustration. In 2000, Pitino lambasted fan negativity in a memorable speech, saying it “makes the greatest town, greatest city in the world, lousy.”
While Pitino was already regarded as one of the greatest collegiate coaches in history, NBA success proved much more elusive. He compiled a 102-146 record in less than four seasons with the Celtics and was fired in 2001.
Pitino accepted the head coaching job at the University of Louisville in 2001. By 2005, he was back in the Final Four for the first time in nearly a decade.
In 2009, Pitino revealed that he was the victim of an extortion attempt. During the ensuing investigation, he claimed that he had a sexual encounter with Karen Cunagin Sypher in 2003 and paid for her abortion after she became pregnant.
In 2010, Sypher, who demanded items like cash and luxury cars in exchange for her silence, was found guilty of extortion and lying to federal agents. While Pitino’s infidelity damaged his reputation, he was retained as Louisville’s head coach.
In 2016, Louisville self-imposed a postseason ban on its men’s basketball team after an NCAA investigation confirmed a major scandal. In her book “Breaking Cardinal Rules,” escort Katina Powell alleged that a number of dancers had been brought onto Louisville’s campus to strip and have sex with players and recruits between 2010 and 2014.
Pitino was shocked by the self-imposed penalty, but he was still slapped with additional punishments. The NCAA suspended him for the first five games of the 2017-18 ACC season for failure to monitor his program.
- Timothy D. Easley
In September 2017, it was announced that Louisville was under investigation for an alleged “pay for play” scandal. While the criminal complaint did not mention specific names, it appears to involve a deal in which top recruit Brian Bowen would commit to Louisville and sign with Adidas upon turning pro.
- David Banks/Getty
On September 27, Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were placed on unpaid administrative leave, bringing an end to a 16-season tenure for the head coach. Pitino’s camp vowed to fight the decision.
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- Andrew Redington/Getty