The attorney for Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino says the university violated his client’s contract when it suspended him Thursday, following revelations the program was linked to a widespread NCAA bribery scandal.
U of L Interim President Gregory Postel announced Wednesday that Pitino would be placed on administrative leave without pay, with his employment to be evaluated at a later time. Athletic director Tom Jurich was placed on leave with pay.
Multiple media outlets, including CBS, ESPN and the Wall Street Journal, have reported that Pitino is “Coach-2” named in federal documents as someone who took part in the bribery scheme. Postel said Thursday he couldn’t confirm the reports.
“We don’t feel it’s our place to make those announcements; it’s an investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” he said.
I spoke with Pitino’s attorney, Steve Pence, on Thursday about the allegations against his client and their next steps. The following is a transcript of our telephone conversation.
Is Coach Pitino “Coach 2” referred to in the complaint?
“This is a matter that was drafted by the U.S. Attorney, we anticipate cooperating fully. I am not going to get in front of the U.S. Attorney on answering any questions about their complaint.”
Do you know whether Coach Pitino was in communication with the men who were charged?
“Can’t address whether he was in communication. I can say — and I’ve stated many times — there certainly was no conversation, and there’s not been any allegation there was a conversation with Coach Pitino discussing any payments that would be considered illegal or violation of the NCAA restrictions. I’ve seen reports that people have said that may have happened. Of course anything may have happened, but it didn’t happen. So we deny that, and I think it’s just rank speculation that that happened, and it’s unfortunate.”
You’re saying what didn’t happen was that Coach Pitino was involved in a conversation about payments?
“That’s absolutely right. He was not involved with any conversation regarding payments to student athletes.”
Was he aware of other staffers being involved in those sorts of conversations?
“No, of course not. We said from the outset — and with time these facts will come out — that Coach Pitino had no knowledge of this, was not involved with it, had no knowledge of it. Unfortunately, he was in effect terminated before he had a chance to even present that to the board. That’s an issue that now is going to be left in the legal system. The coach has said all along, and he continues to maintain that didn’t happen. There’s been a rush to judgment in making that assumption. It’s not true and with time, those facts will come out.”
You mentioned this will be handled in the legal system. Do you intend to sue the university for wrongful termination?
“We’re not talking litigation right now. I’m not going to discuss our litigation strategy. There’s a team of lawyers that are looking at this, and l’ll confer with them as will the coach and we’ll decide how to go forward.
“To be clear, the coach had a contract with the university and we expect the university to abide by the terms of those contracts.”
In my reading of the contract, they had to give him 10 days notice of termination. He has not been given notice of termination, correct?
“The contract says they have to give him 10 days prior written notice of any disciplinary action — whether it’s termination, leave, or unpaid leave, whatever. They have to give him 10 days prior written notice. Then he has 10 days in which to present his case and be heard. That has been totally disregarded here.
“It’s tantamount to, as I’ve said before, a judge sending jury out and saying, ‘Find a guilty verdict. When you come back, I’ll tell you what the facts are.’ Coach was never given an opportunity as that provision in the university policy and his contract says, that he has 10 days to present his case to the board. He was never given that chance, period. If you have the contract in front of you, it’s unambiguous.”
Has there been any other communication with the university aside from his meeting with President Postel?
“Again, I’m not going to discuss what might be relevant in litigation, so I can’t get into that. I can only tell you, as I said before, we believe the university clearly violated the terms of his contract and university policy.”
Is it Coach’s Pitino’s goal to continue to coach this team, or does it seem unlikely and you are just trying to figure out how to wrap it up?
“I think Coach Pitino had a contract where he was clearly anticipating coaching this team this year and for many years in the future. Unfortunately, and regrettably, there’s been a rush to cancel that contract. So, how it proceeds from here is in large part up to the university.”