One Hall of Fame coach is defending another while dealing with his own controversy.
Legendary Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino sounded off today at a press conference about allegations that he knew about shady dealings between a former graduate assistant and an escort. ESPN broke the story in October that one of Pitino’s assistants hired an escort to have sex with recruits and players over a four year period. The NCAA is currently investigating the situation and questions have arisen as to how much Pitino knew.
Pitino and his 18th ranked Cardinals have faced scrutiny about the scandal all year and the coach has been, to say the least, quotable and unafraid of bashing the NCAA. Today’s 15-minute press conference even included Pitino’s thoughts about another coach who was forced to endure a scandal and an NCAA investigation of his own (full video below).
“The man I’ve met…the one man in my life…the one person I would never question who I have ever encountered in my life as a young basketball coach is Joe Paterno,” Pitino said. “He would be the one guy that I would hold above reproach at everything. What did they do? They took a statue away. They probably killed him.”
Pitino also offered a couple tidbits about being offered the basketball head coaching job at Penn State by then-Athletic Director Paterno 30+ years ago (what could have been…).
“I was offered the head coaching job by him in the 70s I think it was,” Pitino said. “And I went to [Paterno’s] house. And I said, ‘This is probably going to be, this man is … I’m from Queens New York, Manhattan. This guy is going to be living. He’s Joe Paterno.’ I went in that house. I was amazed. It was a little ranch. He got up and greeted me. This is his house after all those years. The most humble man and the man with the most integrity in our game. And look at the way it ended for him. I don’t think I’ve ever met a man with more integrity than that man.”
“But you know sometimes he didn’t know about it. And it was scurrilous what that assistant coach was doing. And I believe in Joe Paterno and I believe that the way that he went out breaks your heart even thinking about it in that situation.”
His immediate following NCAA comments echo what has been said in Penn State circles over the last three years (for context, Pitino didn’t attend ACC Media Day this year as a result of the scandal).
“I want our university if we feel we are being wronged to step up and say, ‘No, we’re being wronged in there.’ Now it’s tough to do sometimes because the NCAA says no, just like they said with me, you can’t be saying those things because you have no proof. You may be intimidating them. That wasn’t my intention to intimidate anybody. I said, ‘Look, I’m just not going to go (to ACC Media Day).’ The university said that’s the best thing. Not anymore. It’s not going to happen any more that way.”
Pitino is one of many legendary coaches to defend Paterno since 2011.