RPC4: Rick Pitino Has Gone Full On Cardinal and It’s Time To Move On

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Apr 10, 2013; Louisville, KY, USA; Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino addresses the crowd of fans at the KFC YUM! Center during their celebration for winning the NCAA Men

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.

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  • dbevarly

    Don’t put stock in “Calipari’s success pushing” Pitino to be better unless you believe in unicorns. The difference in winning percentage compared to Pitino’s stint at UK (.814) and his current stat at UL (.736) is “far less” as you write, due to the fact Louisville plays (and wins) in the Big East, arguably the toughest men’s college basketball conference (check the stats), and not in the football-dominated SEC where outside Florida, BB is not played as well by the conference schools, and where a team like UK (except this year) can be expected to dominate. I’d argue on that scale, Pitino has been more successful at UL.

    Winning will continue to be challenging as Louisville moves to the ACC, now the second toughest (and soon to reign as the toughest BB conference with the demise of the BE). Heck even in that conference where legendary Coach Krzyzewski has led Duke to four NCAA Championships, 11 Final Fours, 12 regular season titles, and 13 ACC Tournament championships has “only” a .767 winning percentage.

    Finally, Coach Calipari should consider getting a “K” tattoo. Thank goodness, Billy Gillispie and Eddie Sutton didn’t think of it.

    • James

      I sincerely think that Cal’s success pushed Pitino and so do many Louisville fans and media personalities. Pitino and Cal are both ultra-competitive people. When Cal came to KY, he was stealing all of Pitino’s thunder with his success on the court and on the recruiting trail.

      Understanding that Pitino has a massive ego (this is not disputable), one would have to surmise that Pitino being second fiddle to Cal drove him crazy. How did he respond? By rejuvinating his career. Even his players say that he is a different person now than he was three years ago.

      You can’t tell me that Pitino’s coaching style hasn’t changed. Cal was kicking his behind (four straight wins) and Pitino had to respond. He was being humiliated. While UK was going deep into the tourney, UofL was getting booted in the first round.

      As for success rate, Pitino owned college basketball while he was at Kentucky. At Louisville, he has done a great job but his success has not been close to what he had at Kentucky. Now, if he goes to back-to-back finals, then we can talk.

      All in all, this is great for both programs and the rivalry. Basketball has never been better in the Blue Grass. When’s the last time one state boasted back to back champs from their major universities?

      • dbevarly

        Your analysis is too parochial. College basketball does extend beyond the Bluegrass State. Winning (not just beating your rival) and getting to the tournament is what’s important. Any coach and fan want that experience, and a W/L against an in-state rival is just bragging rights and isn’t going to impact an entire season.

        Though I agree with you about “getting booted in the first round.” It stinks. Must be unbearable when it happens in the NIT.

        • James

          Do you really want to debate Rick Pitino’s and John Calipari’s post season success over the last four years? Really?

          • dbevarly

            Nah. Forget the past except for what it has established for the future for the two schools. It’s a whole new ballgame for both programs –Louisville, with a solid foundation for long term, continued success versus a vicarious “puppy-mill,” one-and-done program, rolling the dice each year. Which strategy do you believe will be more sustainable?

          • James

            I’ll take the program that has produced an Elite Eight, back to back Final Fours and a National title. How was Pitino’s “Foundation” program working out for you before this season? Exactly.

            The NIT was unfortunate and was embarrassing, but you also have to take into consideration that our best player was lost for the season due to injury.

            I’ll take the best talent available and NBA draft picks over project players that might not pan out for 3 or 4 years.

            It’s funny how Louisville fans are so cocky at the moment but were blasting the recruiting prowess of Rick Pitino as recently as the 2012 class. I remember Pitino and Louisville fans lamenting the “Bridge Year” and the recruiting class of Gorgui Dieng and Russ Smith.

            Pitino caught lightning in a bottle with a fantastic group of players. Will that happen again? We will see.

          • dbevarly

            We will indeed. Until we meet on the hardwood, we’ll see each other on the gridiron. That should be a “sweet” game.

          • James

            Game of the year in college basketball

          • Paul Jordan

            I really don’t see why you are arguing, except just to argue. And the fact that you are coming to a Kentucky site to argue for the sake of arguing, just reinforces the little brother status of Louisville.

            Fact is, you really have no argument yet you insist on it.

            Let’s look at more facts:

            First, an 81.4% winning percentage versus a 73.6% winning percentage is in fact, a big difference … almost 8%, which equates to 2-3 wins a year. How you argue on that, I do not get.

            Secondly, Pitino has had his two best years at UL the last two seasons, which would indicate that Calipari has caused him to step up his game.

            It has taken Rick Pitino 12 years to do what he did at UK in seven and that is go to two FF’s and win a NC. Also look at these fun stats that would not indicate that Pitino has been more successful at UL:

            Pitino has 7 10 loss seasons at UL, one at UK.

            Pitino had one NCAA exit before the Sweet 16 at UK. While at UL, Pitino has 2 NIT appearances, 2 First round losses and three second round losses. So, 7 of his 12 seasons have finished up with less than a sweet 16 appearance.

            And finally, the head to head status. Pitino is 5-8 versus Kentucky. He is 2-4 in Lexington and 3-4 in Louisville.

            He is 1-4 vs Calipari, and 2-4 vs Smith. He is 2-0 vs Gillispie.

            Without the unfortunate hiring of Gillispie, Pitino is 3-8 vs UK.

            I can go on and on with the FACTS, but they are lost on you. Congrats on the title, but your assumption that it is a new game is ridiculous. And as for the “puppy mill” comment …. Pitino went after the same players as Cal but lost most of the recruiting battles.

          • James

            And let’s not forget that the 73.6% win percentage was also tallied in the CUSA. He was touting the Big East but failed to mention all those years Pitino was in the CUSA. Two of those years he ended up in the NIT.

            And Pitino told a recent recruit that he wants him to be his first one and done player.

        • James

          And when you get put out of the Final Four by your rival, that must really stink too. But I wouldn’t know anything about that.

          • dbevarly

            NIT…First Round… Ouch!

      • Paul Jordan

        I think North Carolina and Duke did it, but never pulled off the back to back to back

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1652602118 Robert Begley

          UNC 2009; Duke 2010

  • Bobby Slaughter

    I WAS a Pitino fan while he was at KY and very thankful for what he did in bring back KY after the mess it was in. As most know his wife wasn’t happy living in Lexington and I believe that is the main reason he departed for the Knicks. He knew that returning to Louisville would be a major problem for the BBN so he shouldn’t be surprised at the results. My feelings for his “Table Affair” is what it would be for anyone at any university, he should have been terminated, not glorified. A very poor example for a coach of young men and for the Univ. of Louisville to praise him is the worse example of the morals of the Adminstration @ U.L.

    • James

      Yes, the current Pitino love-fest is quite comical. Like I said in my post, the fans were more upset with losing in the tournament in the first round and losing to Kentucky than the other incident of which you speak.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thaddaeus.hudson Thaddaeus Hudson

    We are talking about basketball. I love when these internet moralists get into their puritanical criticism of Pitino.Thats between Pitino and his wife…all you wanna be Nancy Graces.

    Kevin Ware is a class act and thanks Pitino for setting the example. The players call Pitino a father figure. I bet Demarcus Cousins and all the one and dones really bonded with Cal. He has been associated with BASKETBALL scandals. If anyone shouldnt be coaching its him.

    Cal should be an agent not a coach. Thats pretty much what he is anyways. Look at last seasons result. How good would Russ Smith be on a Cal team? how good would Anthony Davis be on a UofL team? Catch my drift.