Trying to make sense of Rick Pitino’s role in the Louisville sex scandal

When it comes to Rick Pitino’s lack of knowledge of the sex scandal accusations about the Louisville basketball program, most fans call B.S.

Many players say the same. I believe Pitino because I think a certain part of him has checked out.

But that aside, Pitino is an amazing coach, and he is a well-regarded speaker and author with a focus on leadership.

His practice plans are meticulous. Just like his suits and ties. He wears a microphone at practice as to make sure he is heard while not having to raise his voice above speaking level. He is a fanatic about fitness, not just for his players, but his own and the staff, who must lose weight and fall within fitness guidelines. Pitino challenges his players and staff to remember scouting reports with no notes.

His ego comes from his success, his success comes from his preparation and his preparation comes from a supreme focus on the details.

But he didn’t know that his players’ dorm, which he had meticulously designed to house his team, and named to honor his late brother-in-law, was essentially a basketball-run brothel on recruiting weekends? It’s a perplexing situation.

“I can’t believe he didn’t know, he is an egomaniac who wants to know every detail of everything,” said one former Louisville athletic department employee.

“We always knew if recruits had sex on their visit — always,” said one former D-I assistant.

“I know he is a control freak, but I don’t think he knew,” a current college assistant said. “Players don’t tell coaches about that kind of stuff, head coaches at least.”

First of all let us dispense with the bull about what coaches generally know. The question is, after four years of Andre McGee as the Director of Basketball Operations and the alleged mastermind behind the “parties” — how did Pitino NOT know?

Here is the thing about Pitino — he isn’t as involved off the floor in players’ lives as the PR arm of Louisville would lead you to believe. In fact one coach told me that Pitino typically was gone from the KFC Yum! Center before his team had boarded their bus after the game. Pitino had, in his mind, checked out on his team over the past couple of years, when the light of the TV cameras weren’t on him.

I think he did not know. I also think it doesn’t actually matter.

McGee likely told the coaches that he threw parties. A coach’s normal concerns are usually, make sure we don’t have underage kids in a bar, or at a club and no one get a DUI. All of that can lead to bad news. Again McGee clearly was thinking in very cut-and-dried, linear fashion if his thoughts made his “parties” a smart idea.

If Pitino asked, “What did you do when Montrezl Harrell came to visit?” and McGee’s answer was, “We threw him a party at Minardi. We brought in girls and everything. He signed.” The coach is happy.

Keep in mind Pitino, like most coaches, leaves a point man with marching orders that follow: “Get it done. I want him to commit before he leaves. Get it done.”

While many of you are reading this thinking, “Wait, so Pitino seems to know the body mass of his staff but is tone deaf to what went on at these parties?”

Ask yourself this, do you think Pitino asked players, who are 17 or 18, if they had sex with a woman and thought she was a prostitute? Of course not. Many guys dream of sleeping with a stripper and even though this appeared to be a full-service strip club, the players weren’t arranging the set up and what 17-year-old wants to admit that they not only had to pay for sex, but someone else had to pay for it for them? Basketball players think they “got it like that” and thought they were the image of what a “baller” is supposed to be.

My experiences with recruits and coaches

Our saying at Oklahoma State was, “If you fart on campus, they smell it in coach’s office.” Gross, sure, but you get the point.

When a recruit comes to town, the coach who is the point man on that player really is in charge of the visit. Keep in mind most of the day is spent touring the facilities, meeting with academic staff and oftentimes watching a workout and going to a football game. On a football weekend, a player comes in Friday, watches the team workout, will have dinner with the host and staff and then is turned over to the host.

The point man establishes the plan. It is his job to set the players up with a host, make sure they have their $40 a day to spend on the kid and know what kind of “good time” the kid wants to have.

For example, when I was at Notre Dame we had a huge weekend with the late Jason Collier and Mike Babul in for visits.

An assistant coach called us in, as he was the point man for both players.

“Listen, Jason Collier is a great kid, you guys will love him, but, he doesn’t curse, he doesn’t drink and he doesn’t want to come to Notre Dame and be thrown into some uncomfortable situation,” the assistant told us. “[The second recruit], on the other hand — he is the opposite. You will love him, he likes to hang out, show him a good time.”

To this day, one of my most vivid memories is meeting the soft-spoken Collier with Pat Garrity and walking around campus.

We strolled through my dorm, picked up a teammate, whose room just so happened to be the “40s at 4” (40 ounce bottle of St. Ides — only the best) depot for the entire floor. The teammate already had cleaned up his dorm and no alcohol was to be found as we walked to pick up another frosh from our team. This player, a highly-touted wing, decided to meet us at the door with a 40 ounce in hand and beer on his breath.

Collier chose Indiana and told me, “Bob Knight is such a good Christian, my grandmother loves him.” He eventually transferred to Georgia Tech. I do not think our teammate’s beer, or the amount of booze at Notre Dame dorm parties scared Big Jase off. The other recruit meanwhile enjoyed every part of his visit by beating college kids at “Cups” and “Beer Pong,” but still chose another program.

But after every visit, we would have to report back.

At Notre Dame and Oklahoma State, players had a vote as to whether we wanted to offer a kid a scholarship. After all, most kids are “Yes Sir, no Sir” to the coaches and administrators, but after night out with the fellas we can tell if he is a freak, a drunk, a baller or just an egomaniac who thinks he is going to come in and beat everyone out. We were like Roman citizens at the Coliseum with a thumb up or down based upon whether we wanted the kid in our basketball family.

One extreme story that displays the power current players have in determining a recruit’s standing is a tale from UCLA. A top-five high school All-American visited and Charles O’Bannon was his host. At some point in the visit the All-American turned to Charles and said, “Man, I can’t believe you are being so cool to me, especially since I’m gonna come take your job. But don’t worry, I’ll only be here a year.” Needless to say the UCLA boys weren’t too fond of the boast and the recruit ended up at Michigan.

So what do coaches really know?

Coaches know what recruits do because they get the report back from the players.

“Did he drink? Did he get drunk? Did he meet a girl? Did they have sex? Did he have a good time? Do you like him? Does he want to come and play here?” are only some of the questions coaches will ask. If a recruit meets a girl, the coaches will know and ask when they call to follow up or even have a laugh during a “bump” at a basketball event. Recruits that want the Jesus Shuttlesworth treatment are not the exception, the problem is most are too young for the girls and all are too young for the clubs.

Obviously, McGee reportedly thought he had an arrangement that went around those two issues. There is a street level genius to the idea, and it appeared to work. The problem is that if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas and in this case, a bitter former prostitute has you with cell phone pictures and text messages.

Her story may be unethical, her job might have been illegal, but her claims are substantial and seem to pass the smell test.

I believe other coaches on that staff knew. Otherwise why would someone (per ESPN’s report) call McGee to “hook it up” after he left?

Guys talk, especially about sex. They likely knew about the party girls and needed McGee to “hook it up.”

What does this say about Pitino?

Rick Pitino isn't going to just slink away from this scandal by resigning. (USATSI)
Rick Pitino says he will not resign. (USATSI)

If we allow that Pitino may not have known the details does that put him in the clear?
Not in the slightest.

You can’t tell the Pitino story without at least footnoting Karen Sypher. Sure, powerful men have cheated on their wives and sometimes it has become public, but not to this extent and the reported details are strange to say the least. Having a sex scandal at the same school that helped you overcome a very different, but a difficult personal sex scandal and extortion attempt is hard to survive.

When you take into account the alleged prostitution occurred on campus, in the dorm and on his watch, I’m sure we soon will find out where the money came from. I find it exceptionally difficult to believe that Pitino, even with McGee as his fall guy, walks away from this with his job intact.

Coaches are not, in my estimation, overpaid. They not only have to coach, they have to speak to donors to raise money and they need to represent the university at functions as well. But being overpaid has this one teeny, tiny downside — the buck stops where the bucks flow.

When a coach who beat a sex scandal has recruits on campus and their guardians allegedly are organizing paid-sex parties in the basketball dorms with money from an unknown source, heads will roll — even a Hall of Fame head. Such is the responsibility of the salary.

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