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Rick Pitino is back at the helm of a college basketball program on the power conference level. After three years with Iona, the Basketball Hall of Famer was introduced at St. John’s on Tuesday and came out hot.
Questions about the past still remain.
Pitino’s time at Hawaii was marred by a 1977 NCAA report on sanctions against the programs. He was implicated in eight of 64 infractions that led to the team’s probation, but dismissed the report in 1989 and said that he “didn’t make any mistakes” and “didn’t care what anybody says.”
While Pitino was at Louisville, the school self-imposed a postseason ban that stemmed from a sex scandal involving recruits from 2010-14. The NCAA charged him with ‘failure to monitor’ his program and he was suspended for the first five ACC games of 2017-18.
Pitino called the suspension “unjust” and “over-the-top severe.”
The Cardinals’ 2013 national title and 2012 Final Four appearance were vacated as a result.
Pitino was then fired by Louisville in 2017 after the FBI opened an investigation into fraud and corruption within the sport. Allegations against the Cardinals program included payments of $100,000 to the family of a recruit, but it went much deeper across college basketball.
Nearly two years after his dismissal from Louisville, Pitino settled with the university and dropped his $38.7 million lawsuit against the school. As a result, his termination was changed from a “firing” to a “resignation.”
He continues to deny any knowledge of pay-for-play or wrongdoings, but accepted failure as a leader.
Looking back on it now, I deserved to be fired by Louisville. Was I innocent of any wrongdoing? Yes I was, but I was the leader and I deserved to be fired. I need to move on and that’s what I probably have learned the most.— Rick Pitino, via WFAN radio in 2020
Back in November, while Pitino was at Iona, he was cleared and omitted from sanctions related to the college basketball bribery case. No penalty was issued. Allegations against him were dropped.
Rick Pitino denies wrongdoing to this day.
Following his introduction at Madison Square Garden, Pitino joined Sage Steele on SportsCenter. Amongst other topics, the 70-year-old spoke to his controversial past.
In his eyes, the past does not come with controversy.
One thing I can tell you is I’ve made my mistakes. But I’ve always run a clean program. I’ve never, ever — I got cited for violations of failure to monitor my assistant coaches. But nowhere along the way did the NCAA ever find any wrongdoing on my part.— Rick Pitino on SportsCenter
Pitino will not lose sleep if you don’t believe him. He knows what he has done, and what he will continue to do.
I’ve never cheated in the game. I have too much respect for the game to do that. I believe in hard work, I believe in the strong work ethic second to none. And it’s not about believing me, because that’s irrelevant. Some people will, some people won’t.— Rick Pitino on SportsCenter
If you don’t believe Pitino himself, he has a list of references with whom he would like you to speak.
Talk to Billy Donovan. Talk to all the players I’ve coached. I always say that to people. Ask them what I was like to play for, ask them what I was like as a coach. […] Ask them what it was like and what I was like. They’re what my legacy is all about, the players I’ve coached. They’re the ones that put me in the Hall of Fame. I didn’t score a point, I didn’t grab a rebound. My players put me in the Hall of Fame. I’m very, very proud each step along the way of all of them.”— Rick Pitino on SportsCenter
Whether the NCAA recognizes all of his success or not, Pitino doesn’t care.
Louisville hoisted the trophy in 2013, period.
Pitino maintains his innocence, and deflected fault onto those who were punished.
“I’ve never cheated the game,” Pitno said on Tuesday. “I’ve never cheated in the game. You can’t vacate a national championship. Look, you can take a banner down. You can’t vacate. You can’t change history. We won the national championship. We didn’t cheat to win the game, we didn’t pay players, we didn’t do any of that. Things were done wrong by certain people, and that’s something that I’m not proud of that happened.”
As such, he remains proud of his guys.
But I’m always proud of Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng, Montrezl Harrell, Chane Behanan, Kevin Ware. Russ and Peyton, I’m proud of all those [guys]. They earned that national championship. You cannot vacate that. You can take a banner down, but you can’t vacate that.— Rick Pitino on SportsCenter
At the end of the day, people are going to choose to believe what they want to believe, whether Pitino is truly innocent or not. Whenever Pitino’s name is brought up, as is his past. It will always be that way.
In the meantime, as he looks ahead to immediate success at St. John’s, Pitino points to the charges levied against him, or lack thereof. He continues to deny any wrongdoing.