By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Rick Pitino is an interesting paradox. So many twists and turns in his coaching career. It seems that he has made decisions along the way that – if done differently – would have potentially created so many different outcomes than where he is today.
He came to the University of Kentucky as head basketball coach in 1989. After his National Championship run in 1996 he had this to say about his reason for coming to UK as head coach. ” I came to Kentucky for a specific reason; to try to build a program in shambles to the championship level, and we’ve accomplished that”. In April 1997 he said “I’ll be back at my Ol’ Kentucky Home trying to win another championship. There’s no monetary amount that can get me to leave.”
Two weeks later in early May 1997 he had accepted the head coaching position with the Boston Celtics for $70 million dollars over 10 years. His reasoning for taking the job was “There’s a challenge there I wanted to take. It’s the lure of the Boston Celtics. It’s magical”. About the Celtics job he said ” If we’re successful, I will grow old with the Boston Celtics. If we lose, I’ll just grow old.”
By 2001 Rick had resigned as head coach for the Boston Celtics. His overall record was 102-146 over his 3 1/2 year career at Boston.
In seeking out new opportunities he was approached by the University of Michigan to take its head coaching vacancy. He was also approached by Tom Jurich, Athletic Director for the University of Louisville. Rick at the time said he hesitated to take the U of L job because of a potential backlash from UK fans “who felt jilted ” that he would consider coaching at the arch rival of UK. His wife, Joanne, convinced him to take the Louisville job to get back to Kentucky, a state that he loved. As they say, the rest is history.
What makes this history so interesting is the “what ifs” that could have occurred if Rick’s history had taken a different turn.
If Rick swallows his pride – is content with his success at UK – and doesn’t leave for the Boston job in 1997 and Tubby Smith stays at Georgia does UK win the National Title in 1998? How many more championships does UK win with Rick Pitino as coach at UK?
If Rick had taken the Michigan job instead of the Louisville position does Michigan then win the National Title in 2013 instead of Louisville?
By staying in Kentucky where Rick’s career had been relatively scandal free does he avoid the extramarital affair and extortion fiasco in Louisville that occurred with Karen Sypher in 2003? Or the current nightmare that he is living due to the mismanagement of the Louisville basketball program by his Director of Operations, Andre McGee?
But here he sits – on June 15, 2017 – at a press conference in Louisville to discuss the judgement handed down by the NCAA. Defiantly shaking his fist in the face of the NCAA Infractions Committee while he claims unfair treatment and “over the top” punishment for his mismanagement of the U of L Basketball program.
So many years ago he stood at a crossroads – stay at UK and be the King of College Basketball or go for it all and take a grab at the brass ring that was the Boston Celtics. Unfortunately – like his behavior at the press conference – pride made him make the wrong decision then and the wrong decision now.