If you asked the common fan who is the least likable person in all of college sports, virtually everyone would come up with the same two or three names. Nick Saban would probably be at the top of the list, and Urban Meyer and Lane Kiffin wouldn’t be far behind. Plenty of people would throw out John Calipari’s name, or Coach K’s and maybe even Jim Boeheim’s too.
Yet there’s one guy whose name never seems to come up on these lists, even though his behavior and actions are considerably worse than anyone I listed above. He’s a man who has proven to have virtually no moral compass off the court, and on the court, has a program that is currently in the midst of the NCAA’s crosshairs. And yet despite all that, despite the fact that he continues to make an embarrassment of both his school and himself, he found time to put himself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons again this weekend.
That man is Rick Pitino, and while fans continue to dislike Coach K, Calipari and Saban for reasons only known to them, I am here to say that Pitino is, without a doubt, the most impossible person to like in all of college sports. And since no one else is going to call him out for making a fool of himself Saturday I will do so here.
I’ll also raise a question that no one else will bother to: Why is Pitino allowed to get away with all this crap?
Now before I get into Pitino, and why my patience is wearing thin with the guy, let me start by saying this: This article isn’t about his basketball acumen, but instead his actions as a man. As a matter of fact, in a pure basketball sense, I don’t just think he’s a great coach, but in my mind, one of the best I’ve ever seen. His record (two National Championships and seven Final Fours at three different schools) is plenty impressive, but watching him do it year-in and year-out is another thing altogether. Frankly, I don’t think there is a coach who is better at taking a bunch of guys who look average on paper to start the season and turning them into a juggernaut by the end of the season than Pitino. There might be no better example than this year’s team; a mishmash of fifth-year graduate transfers and underdeveloped underclassmen that was picked to finish seventh in the ACC this preseason, and is somehow 11-2 and ranked in the Top 20.
Of course while Pitino is a brilliant coach (and one, who is liked by many of his former players at Kentucky and Louisville), it doesn’t condone the way he acts in public, with the latest absurdity coming on Saturday. For those who didn’t see it, Pitino was caught flipping off Kentucky fans in the moments following a hard-fought, back-and-forth game between his Louisville club and their hated rival.
That’s right, as you can see in the video above, there is Rick Pitino giving the middle finger to Kentucky fans.
To put it simply, the move is amateur and immature, and immediately after it happened, I assumed everyone in the media would call him out for it. Yet despite the fact that this is a highly paid coach who needs to act with more class in this exact situation, the story went basically unreported. No one seemed to say much about it on the national level with the exception of Yahoo’s Pat Forde, and Rick Bozich locally.
Doesn’t it feel like this story is being a little underreported? Doesn’t it feel like more people should be talking about it?
Some of you might disagree, but at the same time, let me ask you this: What do you think the reaction would be if John Calipari did the same thing? If he was caught, on camera flipping off Louisville fans on the way out of the arena following a tough loss?
I’m pretty sure that it would be a code-red, ring the sirens, national crisis that would be the lead story on every sports debate show in America. We would be talking about what a sore loser he is and how he needs to set a better example for his players, with hack TV personalities all across the country (who probably haven’t watched a game of college basketball all season) saying “This is typical Calipari.” The reaction would be similar (minus the last part) if Coach K or Jim Boeheim had done the same, and I’m pretty sure there would have been more pure outrage if a Louisville player had given Kentucky fans the middle finger, rather than Pitino himself. After all, didn’t everyone freak out when an Ohio State football player flipped off Michigan fans a few years back? Although in Pitino’s defense, he only flipped up one middle finger, so maybe he only deserves half the outrage that an unpaid, 21-year-old college kid gets, right?
(Yes, I’m kidding).
Really though it speaks to a larger question, and one that I haven’t answered yet: Why isn’t Pitino held to the same standards as virtually every other coach in his own sport? For that matter, why isn’t he held to the same standards as the players he coaches, the same guys he is supposed to be molding into responsible, thoughtful, level-headed adults?
Those two simple questions boggle my mind.
And the worst part is, it’s not even like Pitino or Louisville can claim that this was a major lapse in judgment, or a one-time incident which was totally out of character. If anything, it’s pretty much exactly in character with everything we’ve gotten out of Pitino the last few years.
Yes, we know Pitino’s track record, but it’s worth repeating here. This is the same guy who admitted under oath to cheating on his wife (during a one-time fling at an Italian restaurant, none the less), and who’s program is currently in the midst of the NCAA’s crosshairs for allegedly buying hookers for players and recruits. Whether that last part actually happened or not, and whether Pitino had knowledge of it will remain to be seen, but the important part today is this: You’d think that a coach with his history would act with a little more common sense than this.
But I guess not, since this is a guy who — despite those incidents — continues to make an embarrassment of his school, and of himself. Heck, I don’t even want to make a joke about “Pitino being able to get away with murder” since at this point, I’m not even sure that’s a joke.
Now there is one last thing to say about Pitino’s actions: there is at least a small chance that maybe, just maybe, he didn’t flip off fans on his way out of the arena. The video isn’t totally, 100 percent clear, and after the game Pitino did send a text message to ESPN’s Dana O’Neil simply saying that he was making a “No. 1” gesture on his way out of the arena.
To which I say…. my God, give me a break. Is this guy for real? Does Pitino actually expect that any of us to believe it? If he’s going to lie about stuff, I wish he’d at least make up a good lie, like “I can’t remember, I was rushing out of the arena to bring my pet unicorn to the vet’s office” or “I can’t answer that question, I’m too busy at home spending quality time with my wife.” Either of those would have been a better excuse than pulling out the “No, I was just giving the No. 1 sign” card.
At the same time, did you notice what I said above: He told ESPN’s Dana O’Neil about the gesture through text. That’s because, wait for it, Pitino didn’t actually show up to the postgame press conference to address questions about the gesture, or (more likely) about the game in general. Instead, he avoided the firing squad, and sent his lackey, assistant coach Ralph Willard up to the podium to answer questions for him instead.
To which I ask, again: What other big-time coach in college basketball would be able to get away with this? What other coach would be able to simply say “Nah, I’m good” to visiting the media after a tough loss, without any major repercussions? Coach K routinely gets killed for not even doing halftime interviews during nationally televised games, yet in a huge rivalry game, Pitino doesn’t show up for the postgame media session at all? Come on, man.
And you know what the worst part is? If there was ever a time for Pitino to show up at a postgame press conference, this was it. His team — again, which has greatly exceeded expectations so far this season — played their hearts out on the road in a huge rivalry game. It was the type of matchup that doesn’t count as a check in the win column, but one that a coach can be proud of none the less.
In essence, the win was quintessential Pitino, and showed his true colors as an X’s and O’s master, the kind of guy who can have any team competing and in position to win, regardless of the opponent or venue.
Unfortunately his behavior after the game also showed his true colors too.
Pitino may be a brilliant coach, but he’s impossible to like off the court.