The Pitino affair: Sex in a restaurant, a job in jeopardy

He’s among the most successful and charismatic people in the Western World, but I’m not sure success and charisma will save Rick Pitino. This isn’t He Said/She Said. This is He Admitted To Police, which is an altogether different thing. And here, according to Andrew Wolfson of the Courier-Journal, is what the Louisville basketball coach has said he did:

• Met a woman in a restaurant and, after the establishment had closed its doors, had sex with the woman while an assistant was within earshot.

• Gave the woman $3,000 to have an abortion after she informed him she was pregnant.

• Met with the woman at the condominium of the team’s equipment manager, who would subsequently marry the woman.

Were he still an NBA coach, this would still be a seamy matter. Because Pitino works for a state-supported institution of higher learning, that makes it something more. The University of Louisville is in business not just to sell tickets to basketball games but to provide an education for the young and impressionable. Is such behavior, even if it happened more than six years ago, the sort a university can condone?

Rick Pitino’s marriage has long been the subject of much Bluegrass conjecture, but he remains wedded to Joanne Pitino, mother of his five children. (One of those, son Richard, just left his father’s staff to go work for Billy Donovan at Florida.) Beyond that, Pitino is Catholic. While coaching at both Kentucky and Louisville, Pitino has had a priest — Father Bradley, no relation — sit on the team bench. The Catholic Church does not condone abortion in any form.

This story has come to light only because Pitino reported to the FBI in April that the woman in question — Karen Sypher (nee Cunagin) — had made extortion demands through her now-estranged husband: First for college tuition for her children (she has four), two cars and $3,000 a month; then for $10 million. She has pleaded not guilty to charges of lying to the FBI and extortion. Pitino has been charged with nothing. (Sypher has accused Pitino of raping her both at the restaurant and at the equipment manager’s condominium.)

But it’s not Sypher who’s the most recognizable person in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The truth might well be on Pitino’s side, but it’s an ugly truth.

Think of it this way: The enthusiasm for and scrutiny of basketball in Kentucky can be likened to the fervor for football in Alabama. And wasn’t Mike Price dumped as head coach by the Crimson Tide before coaching a game after reports surfaced that he’d had sex with a stripper in Pensacola, Fla.?

Price denies to this day such an encounter took place. (He settled a lawsuit with Sports Illustrated, which had reported the alleged assignation, out of court.) Pitino has admitted to having sex with Sypher and giving her $3,000. (Though his lawyer claims the money was for her to buy health insurance, not to have an abortion.)

Both the University of Louisville’s president and athletics director released statements in the wake of the Courier-Journal’s report. AD Tom Jurich: “We stand by [Pitino] and his family during this process.” But James Ramsey, the president, admitted: “I’ve now been informed that there may be other details which, if true, I find surprising.”

As Pete Thamel of the New York Times has noted: “There aren’t a lot of historical touchstones here, especially for college. The Patriots never considered firing Bill Belichick when his name popped up in as the ‘other man’ in a bitter New Jersey divorce case.”

And that’s the point. Belichick is a professional coach. He’s paid to win games, period. Pitino is paid — $2.25 million — to win, yes, but also to conduct himself in a way that confers honor on the University of Louisville. (Full disclosure: My dad was a U of L alum; I’m a Kentucky grad.)

He’s one of the best coaches in the business, but I’m thinking Rick Pitino isn’t long for campus life. Don’t look for Louisville to fire him, but look for a best-for-both-parties separation between the school and its famous coach. Look for him to be back in the NBA within 10 months.

Update: Pitino apologized for his indiscretion Wednesday and, according to Marlen Garcia’s story in USA Today, vowed to remain at U of L. And president Ramsey released another statement: “As we try to teach our students, when you make a mistake, you admit it and right it as best you can. Coach has done that today.”

140 comments Add your comment

Bryan G.

August 12th, 2009
2:43 pm

Imagine if you had a coach at a public university who for years was sleeping with a married member of the State’s Board of Regents. Man, that would REALLY be a story.

SC Ace

August 12th, 2009
2:44 pm

I lived in Louisville for a long time (including when Pitino became coach of the Cards. I think he’ll be fine because, rightly or wrongly, people love him and will give him the benefit of the doubt. That said, if they have a sub-par year, if Calipari beats him, if recruiting dips… this will come back to haunt him.

And Porcino is closed now (we lived in walking distance). Over-priced Italian food, though supposedly very good.

Herschel Talker

August 12th, 2009
2:47 pm

MB – another phenomenal blog entry. Spot on, my friend. I’ll assume your last entry was just a hiccup.

BT

August 12th, 2009
2:51 pm

I feel awful for the Pitino family but I certainly think it is for the best you got rid of the UGA prediction blog. I was envisioning some of the Dawgs running you out of town. Glad things are ok now.

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2009
2:51 pm

Either that one was or this one was, Herschel. You’ll have to decide. (But thanks.)

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2009
2:52 pm

I think I’ll be OK, BT. Nobody takes me seriously, anyway.

Mark Richt

August 12th, 2009
2:53 pm

Can’t wait for the same story to come out about me ;)

?????

August 12th, 2009
3:03 pm

Mark, how can you acually email an AJC writer? From time to time, I’d like to email a writer, with a legit question, using my real name.

TommyP

August 12th, 2009
3:04 pm

He’s my favorite coach and one I’ve always wanted to emulate in coaching.

However, I still feel he’ll be coaching Louisville this upcoming season.

I feel horrible for his family, though.

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2009
3:06 pm

If you look to the right side of the page under “Social Networking for the Antisocial,” you’ll find I’ve stuck my e-mail address over there. It’s mbradley@ajc.com.

bowman

August 12th, 2009
3:13 pm

MB writes: “Pitino is paid to win, but also to conduct himself in a way that confers honor on the University of Louisville.”

We soon will find out that Pitino is paid to win, the rest is just window dressing. This, unfortunately, is the ugly truth about D-I universities and the people who coach their “student-athletes.”

bowman
– -
“Art will always be Art.” – Goethe

Tide Rising

August 12th, 2009
3:15 pm

Mark,

Price did not have sex with the woman and this is generally acknowledged. I still have the vision of this woman in my head. She looked like Pat from Sat night live only thin of course. I categorically refuse to believe an older man imbibed with alcohol could have done anything with this one. He should have been fired solely on the basis of picking the world’s ugliest, manliest stripper. He was just fired for what was obviously poor behavior and basically just embarrassing himself and the school.

Interesting that you would make the analogy between UK basketball and Bama football. The fans of the 2 seem to have a mutual respect and admiration for each other’s success in the opposite sport. They’ve always admired our football tradition and likewise we’ve always been in awe of their basketball tradition. Its a unique admiration that is well known between fans of the 2 schools.

If Bama fired Price over far lesser allegations of just having a stripper party in his room then Pitino has got to go. The abortion, the affair itself, trying to arrange for the equip manager to marry her. The whole thing is a huge mess that dwarfs Mike Price’s one night mistake.

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2009
3:15 pm

I’d hate to be U of L’s president today, Bowman.

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2009
3:17 pm

Wait a second, Tide. You know — or have seen — the stripper in question?

Michael Harvey

August 12th, 2009
3:19 pm

Great coach, sad story, but I’m glad he did not buckle into the extortion demands.

Tide Rising

August 12th, 2009
3:23 pm

Mark,

They had a picture of her online. I would kiss the green, wart nosed evil witch in the wizard of oz before I would kiss this woman. And when I call her a woman I’m giving her the gratuitous benefit of the doubt.

If it had been a girl from say the Cheetah here in Atlanta I would have applauded Price for pulling that one off and suggested an elderly man of such vigor, energy, and charisma should keep his job.

Its like what the French had to say about Clinton/Monica Lewinsky. For God’s sake the man was president of the United States. He couldn’t do any better than Monica Lewinsky?

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2009
3:24 pm

I don’t really know how to respond, Tide. So I just won’t. OK with you?

Tide Rising

August 12th, 2009
3:26 pm

And please don’t google her picture, post it, and give the crimson tide crimson faces all over again. You can spare us that indignity can’t you? I’ld rather tack on another 5 years of probation yet again then see the sordid pic of this stripper.

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2009
3:27 pm

I’ll spare you that much, TR.

Ryno

August 12th, 2009
3:30 pm

God bless the South, I love it.
This comment thread goes from a legit conversation about morality, ethics and a tough decision facing a university president and in a few short posts GOES 180 DEGREES in the direction of Strippers and Crimson Tide Football.

Jim

August 12th, 2009
3:30 pm

The bottom line is this guy is the guy who will have to sit across from high school kids parents and close the deal during recruiting. To say Pitino has damaged his reputation is putting it mildly. I am from Ky. and I know how rabid the fans are there. I also know that most high school kids parents will be leary about turning their kids over to a coach with this stuff as part of his resume. Me thinks he may be gone too.

Hillbilly Deluxe

August 12th, 2009
3:31 pm

Do these idiots never learn?

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2009
3:31 pm

We do have our priorities, Ryno.

catridder2004

August 12th, 2009
3:32 pm

I wonder who sat at that table next? LOL
No really, I am a straight pretty strict female; I do not like what he did but I detest what this @#%*% did! She is a con and I am sick of these women doing this. He didn’t rape her. No woman gets raped and goes back for more later. What a crock! Her ole man found out about it and at some point they concocted this scheme. Her husband didn’t want to pay child support or something. And as far as the pregnant thing. Another crock. No way – 2 weeks. You have to be 2 weeks past your period to even suspect. At her age? BS!! She forgot her hormone pills not her birth control pills! I feel for Petino’s wife/family. Heck, I am not sure I would be that angry with my husband after 6 years and a one nighter on a table! No threat to my marriage there. Now, if he has ran around before or since, that’s different.

TommyP

August 12th, 2009
3:32 pm

Well, we know Price was in hell based on the fact that Saban reigns supreme down there.

Poor Pitino’s gonna burn in Tuscaloosa!

Jim

August 12th, 2009
3:32 pm

You cannot have a coach sitting across from a high school kid”s parents who is trying to seal the deal and have this mess as part of your resume. Parents tend to be partial as to who will help their kids get through their college years. Me thinks he is gone shortly.

baconboy

August 12th, 2009
3:36 pm

Well I’m not so nice as to not paste a link to the picture of Mike Price’s stripper:
http://sports.espn.go.com/i/magazine/new/destiny_stahl.jpg

Though she looks suspiciously like Nick Saban in drag…

DawginLex

August 12th, 2009
3:36 pm

All of this will eventually lead to Rick’s resignation. He sent his son to UF to succeed Donovan who will be UL’s next coach. UK didn’t pursue Rick when Billy G left because this was a brewin’.

He won’t escape this one even though she appears to be a head case. too much bad pub for Jurich and the Prez to turn heads and pretend it isn’t there.

It is a shame too because the UK/UL basketball game was gonna become a instant classic every year with the talent being stockpiled in both camps.

Tide Rising

August 12th, 2009
3:37 pm

Ryno,

Its not a tough decision. They have to fire him. Plain and simple.

The Alabama side conversation came from the article because Mark referenced the Alabama situation with Mike Price and strippergate. The Alabama thing with Price has a great deal of relevance to this situation because its the only other pertinent situation similar to this Pitino problem that’s happened in the sec regarding head coaches and sexual scandals.

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2009
3:37 pm

So now it’s Billy D. to the ‘Ville, huh? Back in March it was Billy D. to the Lex.

BT

August 12th, 2009
3:38 pm

Somehow I get the impression that the woman in question lacks a little on the beauty as well as morals. Of course Pitino is the one in question and more importantly the school.

gdawginkalamazoo

August 12th, 2009
3:39 pm

Thank God the they closed the place down. How you like to be the patrons seated at that table for lunch the next day. Probably stickier than a table at an IHOP.

Reminds me of Monty Python’s “Every little…. is sacred”. Do they have to mention his religion? The fact that he totes a Priest around with him? That he didn’t have the Priest around with him that night?

Hey Rick turn the lights out and lock up when you are done.

gdawginkalamazoo

August 12th, 2009
3:41 pm

baconboy, that was the lead singer for Twisted Sister wasn’t it?

[...] Mark Bradley of the AJC on Pitino [...]

James

August 12th, 2009
3:45 pm

The Mike Price situation is an awful comparison. Mike Price was never accepted as Bama coach by a number of people who used his lapse to get rid of him. Rick Pitino is loved in Louisville and supported by everyone. Consider: suppose after being hired Saban engaged in the same conduct that led to Price’s dismissal. Would Saban have been fired? No way because Bama could never get a better coach than Saban just like Louisville cannot get a better coach than Pitino.

MightyQuinn

August 12th, 2009
3:46 pm

I am an Atlanta native but I live in Louisville from ‘83-’87, during which time they won a national championship. I coached rec league basketball while there and got to meet a lot of people involved in the basketball scene there by running camps. I can tell you, U of L’s president may fire him, but if you put it to a vote in the city, Petino stays in a landslide.

catridder2004

August 12th, 2009
3:47 pm

Who paid the ticket at the restuarant? Was he on his own time or the states? Did he buy her meal/drinks on the state as well? State auto, etc., for this after dinner mint?

Tale of the Tape

August 12th, 2009
3:50 pm

There is one main difference here.

Rick Pitino paid the woman after fornication to have an abortion and left her physical unharmed.

Mike Vick would have drowned, electrocuted, beaten, shot, tortured and/or hung the woman and her fetus.

EW

August 12th, 2009
3:50 pm

MB- Don’t remember all the details about the Price incident but I would venture a guess that somewhere along the lines he was dishonest about what happened. Pitino, by all accounts, has be open and honest from the jump. That’s all I need to know about him. As for his family and religion, he has his wife and God to answer to about that.

EW

August 12th, 2009
3:51 pm

has been** stupid laptop

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2009
3:51 pm

Supposedly the dinner was to celebrate the hiring of assistant coach Reggie Theus, the ex-Hawk. Although it’s not believed Theus was in attendance. This from the Courier-Journal’s report.

PMC

August 12th, 2009
3:52 pm

So you don’t feel he will be coaching Louisville this year Mark?

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2009
3:53 pm

I’m guessing he’ll be gone after this season, PMC.

PMC

August 12th, 2009
3:54 pm

Don’t they kind of need Rick Pitino more than he needs them?

EW

August 12th, 2009
3:55 pm

bowman, To extend your point, the same goes for the politicians running our country.

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2009
3:56 pm

Not now they don’t.

Tide Rising

August 12th, 2009
3:57 pm

James,

The Price case is pretty relevant. It doesn’t matter if some people at Bama were unhappy when he was hired. Virtually every head coaching hire at virtually every program is going to have some people unhappy about the hire. That’s just the nature of fans.

The university president hired him with the approval of the board and the same president and board had him fired. They didn’t hire him just to find an excuse and turn around and fire him a few months later just because some people weren’t thrilled with the hire.

Bama Aaron

August 12th, 2009
3:58 pm

Well written blog Mark. As someone also originally from the Commonwealth I still follow the action up there. I could be wrong but unless you are correct and he decides to resign (which I believe would be the proper thing to do) I think his job is safe. And he has UK to thank for this.
As sad as it may be for athletics to have such a position of power in cases like this the Cardinals can’t afford to let the balance slip completely over to the Wildcats. It’s already slipping that way with the hiring of Calipari. Having to do a coaching search now would definitely hurt them.

gdawginkalamazoo

August 12th, 2009
3:59 pm

I guess he actually learned something from his NBA days eh?

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2009
4:00 pm

That’s true, Bama. With Calipari and Wall in Lexington, the pendulum has swung back Kentucky’s way.