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Rick Pitino's still not technically fired

This could get messy.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Michigan vs Louisville Thomas Joseph-USA TODAY Sports

Rick Pitino will never coach the Louisville men’s basketball program again.

The school removed him after an FBI corruption probe surfaced last week. Louisville wasn’t named in the FBI’s public information on the case, but it was immediately clear that the Cardinals had been implicated — specifically, by way of an alleged collaboration with Adidas to pay $100,000 to sway a five-star recruit to sign with UL.

The Courier-Journal has since confirmed that Pitino is the FBI’s “Coach-2,” who’s accused of working with Adidas to help pay that top prospect, Brian Bowen.

What Louisville did with Pitino last week wasn’t technically a firing.

The school placed him on “unpaid administrative leave,” interim university president Greg Postel told reporters last Wednesday, a day after federal prosecutors outlined the case against several coaches and Adidas employees. He said Pitino’s status would be “reviewed at a later date.” For the time being, Pitino was in a kind of no man’s land.

On Monday, Louisville moved toward actually firing him.

The school’s athletic board voted unanimously to fire the coach. The Courier-Journal reported:

Interim university President Greg Postel said the ULAA asked him to detail "the logic of the decision" in a letter that will be released in the coming days. The decision followed "vigorous conversations" behind closed doors, Postel said.

"The motion was short and simple," Postel said in a news conference after the meeting. "The board requested of me and authorized me to initiate the process of termination for cause as defined in Coach Pitino's employment contact."

It’s not official yet, because Pitino has a few contractual rights. More on those shortly.

Pitino has maintained that he didn’t do anything wrong.

The day the scandal became public news, he released this statement through a lawyer:

"These allegations come as a complete shock to me. If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorney's Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville. Our fans and supporters deserve better, and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable."

But Louisville’s saying Pitino did do something wrong.

The athletic board voted to fire Pitino “for cause” on Monday.

Most college coach firings are not “for cause,” which really just means they’re for losing too many games. “For cause” is a legal term for more significant wrongdoing than being a bad coach, and Pitino was great at winning games.

Pitino’s contract is here. These are a few of the things that could get him fired for cause:

  • A “major violation” of any Louisville, ACC, or NCAA rule. To state the abundantly obvious, facilitating a $100,000 cash payment to a recruit’s family would be an NCAA violation of just about the highest order. (It’d definitely be a Level I violation, the most serious kind the NCAA can slap on someone.) But this isn’t really an NCAA case.
  • “Dishonesty,” “acts of depravity,” or committing a felony.

Another part of that section of Pitino’s deal: If Louisville fires him, it needs to give Pitino 10 days’ written notice and an “opportunity to be heard.” Louisville plans to pay Pitino for those 10 days, officially fire him, and pay him nothing beyond that.

That means Pitino could last, technically, for another week and a half, though he’s already been replaced by interim head coach David Padgett.

It’s why UL didn’t just fire him on the spot.

Pitino is girding for a fight. It seems like Louisville is, too.

When Louisville put Pitino on leave, his lawyer, Steve Pence, said the coach had been “effectively fired.” Firing Pitino without giving him his 10-day notice seems like it’d be a violation of the coach’s contract. Local radio station WDRB reported that Pitino’s lawyer followed up and served the school with a breach of contract notice on Monday.

Louisville is trying to counter the notion that it “fired” Pitino when it put him on that administrative leave. When the athletic board met Monday, it didn’t make a decision on former athletic director Tom Jurich, whom it placed on leave with Pitino.

"When a person is on administrative leave, by definition that person coming back is always an option," Postel told reporters. "There has been no termination of Mr. Jurich."

That’s Postel attempting to bolster the school’s argument that Pitino himself has yet to be fired. It’d be a shock if Jurich actually returned to his job.

There’s huge money at stake.

Pitino is under contract through the 2025-26 basketball season. His buyout is reportedly $44 million, which is gigantic even by the high standards of college coaching buyouts. But if he’s fired for cause, he doesn’t get money he hasn’t earned yet, and those tens of millions of dollars stay in Louisville’s bank account.

That’s why it’s critical for Louisville to fire him in this way, and that’s almost certainly why Pitino’s pursuing legal action against the school.

So what happens next?

The sides argue. Maybe the case goes to court. More likely, it gets settled or tossed out.

Either way, Pitino never coaches another Louisville basketball game. He probably doesn’t coach anywhere else, either, and retires with a 770-271 all-time record.