The way Rick Pitino apparently sees it, he’s not at fault.
The former Louisville coach continues to take zero responsibility for the improper dealings with recruits that cost him his job earlier this month and landed the scandal-tainted Cardinals basketball program in the NCAA’s crosshairs once again.
Pitino filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Adidas, claiming he was damaged by the company’s “outrageous conduct in conspiring to funnel money to the family of a college basketball recruit.” According to the lawsuit, the scheme resulted in “grave damage to Coach Pitino’s public and private standing and reputation, causing him extreme embarrassment, humiliation and emotional distress.”
Pitino’s lawsuit alleges that Adidas’ actions were done without his “knowledge, participation, or acquiescence.” It furthermore says that Pitino has “never authorized, tolerated, participated in, or otherwise condoned giving improper benefits to recruits or players, or to their families.”
“Adidas knew, or recklessly avoided knowing, that Coach Pitino’s reputation hinged on him running a clean, proper and strictly compliant men’s basketball program,” the lawsuit says.
“The lawsuit is about more than just money; it is Coach Pitino’s vehicle for proving that he had nothing to do with Adidas’ outrageous, wrongful, and illegal conspiracy.”
Adidas released a response Tuesday to ESPN’s Darren Rovell: “Mr. Pitino’s lawsuit is clearly a reaction to his termination yesterday and is without merit.”
Pitino is one of the most high-profile figures ensnared in the FBI investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball.
A federal complaint issued last month alleges that at least one unnamed member of Louisville’s coaching staff was complicit in a scheme to funnel $100,000 from Adidas to the family of a prized recruit. In return, the prized recruit, believed to be McDonald’s All-American Brian Bowen, would attend Louisville, one of the most prominent college athletic programs that Adidas sponsors.
Also mentioned in the complaint are three phone calls between a coach since identified as Pitino and James Gatto, the since-arrested and former head of global sports marketing for Adidas. The complaint does not indicate what was discussed, but the calls took place the week Bowen committed to Louisville in June.
In a series of statements over the past few weeks, Pitino called the allegations a shock and insisted he knew nothing about any payments between Adidas and a Louisville recruit. It was reminiscent of his reaction two years ago when it was revealed that former Louisville staffer Andre McGee had hired strippers and escorts to entertain Louisville players and recruits.
Pitino played the rogue assistant card then and it worked. He kept his job.
He could not pull off the same trick twice. Louisville formally fired him with cause on Monday after placing him on unpaid leave more than two weeks ago.
An attorney for Pitino previously delivered a breach of contract notice to the university alleging it failed to properly notify the coach or give him sufficient opportunity to respond when it placed him on leave. That suggests Pitino may also soon sue Louisville in addition to his lawsuit against Adidas.
Whether or not Pitino knew about the payments to Bowen, it’s difficult to craft an argument for him to work in college athletics again.
If he knew about the payments to Bowen, he’s brazen enough to blatantly flout NCAA rules while Louisville was still serving its penalties related to the escort scandal. If he didn’t know about the payments to Bowen, then he clearly had no control of a program that violating NCAA rules left and right under his watch.
Pitino clearly prefers the latter to the former. And as the Adidas lawsuit shows, he’s willing to go to great lengths to try to argue that position.
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