Rick Pitino, You've Lost My Respect

Michael IelpiCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2009

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 27:  Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals looks on against the Tennessee Volunteers during the 2008 NCAA Men's East Regional Semifinal at Bobcats Arena on March 27, 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Rick Pitino and I share a few things in common.  First, we both have the same birthday, September 18.  We are both Italian and come from the New York City area.  We both share a love for basketball and fell in love with women whose name happens to be Joanne.  We both lost a relative on September 11th in New York City. 

Rick Pitino is a phenomenal motivator and college basketball coach.  What he did at Providence College, taking over a losing team in 1985 and going all the way to the Final Four in 1987 was the stuff of legend.

The Pitino show left Providence to take him back home to New York to become the head coach of the Knicks.  With the Knicks, Pitino's magic touch carried straight to the NBA.  The Knicks made the playoffs each of his two seasons at Madison Square Garden.  The Knicks under Pitino would win the Atlantic Division title in 1989; this would be the Knicks first division crown since 1971.

Surprisingly after the 1989 season, he would resign from the Knicks, famously saying, "I'm a college coach." 

He would go on to find his greatest success at the University of Kentucky.  He would take this legendary college basketball program from coming out of probation to a National Championship.

After falling in overtime in the 1997 National Championship game against Arizona, Pitino would leave Lexington, Kentucky and move up near Lexington, Massachusetts and sign a $50 million contract to coach the Boston Celtics.

Something would happen to Rick Pitino in Boston that never happened to him in the past.  He failed.  The Celtics from 1998 to 2001 missed the playoffs each of the three-plus seasons that Pitino was at the helm.  He would resign in January 2001.

Pitino usually knew when to leave a situation, but this time he resigned in disgrace.  He resigned in Miami after the Celtics had lost to the Heat and did not return to Boston to face the media.

A couple months later, he would find himself back in school and in the state of Kentucky, but this time it would be at Louisville, as he replaced Hall of Famer Denny Crum as the head coach of the Cardinals.  Pitino's return to college basketball has been very successful.  Louisville went to the Final Four in 2005, and was ranked the number one team in college basketball for a portion of the 2008-09 season.

His method of solid recruiting and coaching along with being able to motivate players has been a staple of his success in college basketball for over twenty years.

There is one problem with this latest sales pitch.  No one is going to buy it, and for a rare time in his life, Rick Pitino is on the defensive.  Remember one of the last times he was on the defensive?

You could laugh at his Boston press conference with those infamous comments.  But, you cannot laugh at what has taken place between Pitino and a woman not named Joanne Pitino.

This week, Rick Pitino is facing a problem the likes of which cannot be solved by moving on or by saying something motivational.

The Pitino show has hit its biggest speed bump.  Pitino has been hit with his own full-court press, like the kind he used to torment everyone else's defense with on the basketball court.

It would be foolish to think that the woman that Pitino had relations with, Karen Sypher—the wife of Pitino's equipment manager, Tim Sypher—had an encounter with him just because she liked the way he coiffed his hair or his Armani suits.  Karen Sypher saw a meal ticket, similar to the way many high school basketball recruits do when they get recruited.  Being in the presence of someone with the prestige of Rick Pitino is a way for them to "better" themselves .

Karen Sypher went way too far and is now being investigated for extortion and lying to federal agents.

I went back today and took out my old copy of Success Is A Choice.  This was the best-selling book that Pitino co-authored after Kentucky's 1996 National Championship.  I wanted to see what he wrote about discipline:

"Discipline is our plan, our awareness of where we are starting from and what road to take when we arrive at our destination. By creating this discipline and by combining it with organization and methods, you are leveraging this motive for positive results. You have no more doubts."

Pitino's lack of discipline has led him to a disciplinary meeting with the University of Louisville.

If I was the one with the power at the University of Louisville, I would not rush to judgment and I would want to know all of the facts.  Unfortunately, Louisville seems to think it knows all of the facts, and today University President James Ramsey has said that Pitino is "our guy."  It is his decision and I am sure some of his decision is financially motivated.  But, he does not necessarily have to fire Pitino.

There are two sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Rick Pitino has brought in millions for the Louisville basketball program, but either way, the decision is far from easy.  It appears that Pitino would have violated the morality clause in his contract.  Mr. Ramsey should know that the school is setting a precedent that is going to be very difficult to apply to others who do not happen to bring in millions like Pitino.

What really disgusted me about this whole affair was not that Pitino cheated on his wife, or had sexual relations in a restaurant, or even that he allegedly paid for an abortion.  All of these issues I find completely disturbing, but some of those issues I mentioned are becoming common in today's society.

What I found most disturbing was that Rick Pitino gave a mock press conference yesterday where he wanted to give a statement and not answer any questions.  He apologized for his actions and said that he would cooperate with the authorities.  That was fine, but as we've seen in other contentious press conferences held by Pitino, he could not leave his ego out of all of this.

"I came here at a very difficult time," he said. "9/11 hit and I needed a community to get over it.  In New York City, it was easy.  Everybody knew the devastation and they got over it.  In Louisville, the impact wasn't felt like it was in New York, but university officials, my friends and loved ones helped me through this difficult time."

I have no idea what that meant.  Who has truly gotten over what happened on September 11th?  Whether you have lost someone you knew or not, you did not really get over it.   Sure, you move on with your life, because that is just what life does, it moves on, for better or for worse.  But, to say that people got over it was just a ridiculous remark.  Pitino is in a hole and he was just handed a new shovel.

I do not know Rick Pitino's wife Joanne, but she must be a woman of incredible strength.  In 1987, she lost a son to congenital heart failure at only six months.  Her brother, Billy, was killed at the World Trade Center on September 11th.  To me, she had to deal with more pain in her life than should be allowed.

I do not know if or how long she knew about her husband's affair, but the pain that she feels now and the hurt for what her husband did must be devastating.  If this Joanne is anything like my Joanne at home, I am wondering how Rick Pitino is still able to stand after his choices.  I know a month from now at my birthday party, my Joanne will be by my side.  I do not know if Pitino can say the same on September 18.

Pitino's legacy is completely tarnished by this scandal.  He will try to act like the same guy he has always been, but the truth that has now set him free is now going to haunt him wherever he goes.  The fans will probably heckle him to no end, and some of his endorsements may be lost forever.  But, a part of Rick Pitino died when this news came to the media.

When respect is lost, it is hardly ever regained.  That is a choice that was unsuccessful.  I cannot feel bad for Pitino.  This was all his choice.

The respect that I used to have for someone I once held to higher standards, because I thought he was so much like me and shared my values, is gone.  Rick Pitino and I may share a lot of similarities, but this latest allegation is something Pitino can have all to himself.

8/27 UPDATE: Rick Pitino is now blaming the media for turning his life into a living hell. He has moved on from 9/11 to saying that the media should have left him alone today because Senator Ted Kennedy died.

Here is the video of Pitino's press conference yesterday.

I think he believes that he can talk his way out of the mess that he himself started with his inappropriate actions. He does not seem to realize that the media does not act like basketball players. You cannot talk and motivate them to do something that gets you your desired result. The media will eat it alive. The more Pitino talks, the crazier he is sounding. He becomes a YouTube phenomeon.

If he cares about his family like he says, he should keep quiet and hope that stories like Senator Kennedy can overshadow the embarrassment and the circus he is creating down in Louisville. The more he talks about this, the bigger the media mess it becomes. Pitino is someone who does not like to be liked. He is learning that having people not like him is driving him to get more red than a cardinal.

Thank you to everyone who read this. I never dreamed that I would ever have a story with over 1,000 reads.