It’s the tattoo that did it. It cemented the deal as far as Rick Pitino’s legacy as one of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball. The Old English “L” that is now permanently etched into the skin of his left shoulder blade leaves no guessing as to how he will be remembered whenever he decides to hang up his whistle and embark on a new career as a television basketball analyst.
There has been debate about which school Rick Pitino would ultimately be affiliated with at the end of his career. Many coaches have had or will have a similar scenario. Larry Brown coached at UCLA, Kansas and SMU, but there is no doubt he will be a Kansas man all of his life. Bill Self coached at Illinois and Kansas, but will be remembered as a Jayhawk. Roy Williams spent a large chunk of his days at Kansas but will no doubt go out as a Tar Heel as he has led North Carolina to two national titles.
But Rick Pitino’s situation is a little more difficult to define. He went to a Final Four at Kentucky in 1993. He won the NCAA Championship there in 1996 and was the runner up in 1997. He left Kentucky with a .814 regular season winning percentage. The man also has a banner hanging in Rupp Arena, an honor that is not given out lightly.
He has now had similar success at Louisville. He went to two Final Fours (2005, 2012) and won a national title in 2013. His winning percentage there is .736, far less than at Kentucky. But Pitino has now made Louisville his home and has made the city, the university and the team a defining part of his identity. Pitino has also experienced the extreme ups and the extreme downs of his personal life while being the head coach of the Cardinals.
During the Karen Sypher fiasco, Pitino was ridiculed by the national media and by rival fans. Many were calling for him to resign or for UofL athletic director Tom Jurich to fire him. Jurich stuck by his coach and the fan base in Louisville also stuck with him for the most part. His personal life took a black eye and his professional life was about to as well.