There is something people may have missed while watching ESPN on Selection Sunday. Something went unnoticed while millions of brackets were being filled in the first day of March Madness. Something oddly different about this year’s tourney. That something that seems a little off about this time around in the tournament is Rick Pitino, and his absence from the Big Dance.
Pitino hasn’t missed the postseason since 2006, and his Louisville Cardinals sit out this year’s tournament not because of poor performance on the hardwood, but instead because of poor allegations against the program. And what does all of this mean for the man who has been as much a part of college basketball as Coach K himself? It means we may never see Rick Pitino coach another game again.
Although even before the allegations of “sex parties” came out Pitino was contemplating retirement, and at 63 years old it was only a matter of time until the legendary coach called it quits. However the former UMASS guard was still very much in the prime of his coaching career, and in great company among Hall of Fame coaches. For a man who started his coaching days in 1975 at Hawaii, Pitino has never had more success than his most recent stop with the Cardinals of Louisville. Although Pitino has taken an astounding 3 different programs to the Final Four he has really hit a stride with his new Blue Grass State team. The Cardinals head man has won at least 20 games in 14 of his 15 seasons there, only missing the impressive benchmark in his 1st year at the helm when he won 19 games. And of course there is the national championship in 2013 that cemented his legacy as one of the game’s all-time best.
And now, if Pitino does decide that this was his storied career’s last March, it will be disappointing that one of the greatest coaches of all-time will spend the Big Dance at home, while the rest of the country watches a tournament missing a program and a coach that have been a mainstay of March for decades. But that is how it is looking; like the man who took Providence to the Final Four, Kentucky to the Final Four, and Louisville to the Final Four and further is set to leave the game. Some Cardinals fans hold out hope, referencing an October 22nd interview last year where Pitino said that he would not resign under the pressure of those claims against him and his program. And he stuck to his word, coaching the team through the entire season and to a #14 ranking despite the onslaught of criticism the program took. But the season is over now, and as the NCAA has been known to do, nothing has come of the investigation, meaning Louisville might impose another self-ban from the postseason if a harsher NCAA discipline isn’t placed upon them by then. Either way the Cardinals are doubtful to see the ACC tournament or the NCAA tournament next season. And not being a part of March Madness for a 2nd straight season might be enough to get Pitino to finally hang up his clipboard.
Still, if the famed coach does decide to return to Louisville, who knows what sanctions the program will be under. Who knows how much more the NCAA will tarnish Pitino’s legacy. If he rides off into the sunset now, the coach will be remembered as one of the greats whose career ended abruptly, and sadly not on his terms. And worse, if he does return, he will be the coach who can’t win another title. Not because of his team or his ability, but because of these claims which will forever haunt Pitino and his legacy.
So as much as Pitino’s name has been dragged through the mud of late. And as much as the allegations seem to tarnish his name. There is no real doubt that if this really is Rick Pitino’s last season on the sideline, we have witnessed greatness in coaching and seen an unjust end to a legendary career.