Former Cardinals

Pitino: A Reflection

Chris Humphrey

With the recent news that the University of Louisville and Rick Pitino had reached a settlement in both their lawsuits, fans, administrators and pretty much everyone associated with UofL breathed a sigh of relief.

Who knows what caused this change of heart? Whether it was some dirt that could have sufficiently affected the already-compromised reputation of Pitino without simultaneously harming Louisville? Or did Pitino soul searched hard enough to get him to leave millions of potential dollars on the table?

We won’t know until his inevitable TV interview(s) but suffice to say the long Pitino chapter may be finally headed for a close. It can’t be fully concluded until the Bowen mess gets cleared up and whatever shoes are left drop, but the home stretch has been reached.

I won’t regale you with thousands of words about Pitino and his history with the program. I missed that boat years ago. But I do want to explore Pitino’s legacy as UofL was and what it says about the fan base and the legacy they leave too.

There are many adjectives one could use to describe Rick Pitino, but perhaps the most surprising (which is also an adjective) is consistent. The Rick Pitino that inherited the coach’s whistle from Denny Crum was much the same as the one who had a whistle so unceremoniously ripped from his neck. If anything changed the most it was fan reaction to him.

While he as at Kentucky in the mid-90’s he was “Slick Rick,” a coach who must have totally been up to some chicanery in order to field those all-world basketball teams with such regularity. But when he moved down the road to coach the Cards suddenly he was someone who did it the right way; who forswore the one-and-done phenomenon for kids he could develop and have perform well into their senior years, and it was UK—led by that ne’er do well John Calipari—who was doing all the cheating.

After Pitino had been fired and was shouting from the rooftops that he was innocent and the current university leadership was out to get him; all fans, administrators and lawyers wanted him to do was shut up and go away. But Pitino had never shut up about anything ever, at any program he has ever been in. He certainly wouldn’t do it when he thought his reputation and livelihood was still at stake.

Of course, Pitino deserves blame. At best he let the rope slip a little and was too trusting of the wrong people; at worst he was abetting illegal and immoral acts that affected the lives of dozens of young men and women, to say nothing of the men’s basketball program and the university itself.

But what drives a coach to try anything and everything to get recruits? What causes billions of dollars to change hands over and under the table to try and get high schoolers to go to certain programs?
Greed, certainly. A desire to win at any cost. But it’s kind of on the fans too.

If there’s one thing that this whole Pitino saga has shown me, it’s that people including me should simmer the heck down. I’ve lost sleep over potential coaching hires. I’ve had my nose buried in my phone for hours on national signing days. Louisville losses have put me in such a funk that my wife starts getting mad at me.

And I just had to stop and ask myself why? Why do I care so much? I don’t go to many games. Don’t spend that much on merch. I’m not running suicides or practicing. I have very little besides my emotions invested in this.

And as a result, I consciously stepped away a little bit. I don’t check Louisville Twitter so often. I don’t throw things when the football team fumbles. I don’t piss off my wife with my postgame behavior, just everything else I do.

And my life and attitude have been better as a result. I can’t ask anybody else to have the same attitude.

As long as people want one team to score more points than another, this kind of thing may just be inevitable. But it’s worked for me.

Will the Louisville program and fans ever be able to forgive and welcome Pitino back into the fold? Only time and the NCAA’s ruling on the Bowen thing will tell. But perhaps fans will be able to look not only at Pitino, but at themselves in a different light.

We are Louisville. College basketball is what we do.

But it’s just a game, folks.

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