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Pitino maintains innocence in interview with ESPN analyst Bilas, says board action was hasty

By Mark Maynard
Kentucky Today

A defiant Rick Pitino spoke candidly with ESPN’s Jay Bilas in a taped interviewed aired late Wednesday night.

It was the first public comment for the Hall of Fame coach since being fired Monday as the University of Louisville basketball coach after a 16-year tenure that included winning the 2013 national championship.

Louisville has been named as part of the FBI’s ongoing investigation into college basketball corruption.

Pitino continued to deny knowledge of any wrongdoing of his assistant coaches, one of whom was mentioned as “Coach 1” in a federal complaint detailing alleged schemes to attempt to funnel money to high school recruits in exchange for them signing with a particular agent and school and with Adidas.

The unnamed Louisville coach took part in a meeting in a Las Vegas hotel room to discuss a plan to attempt to funnel money to a recruit’s family, the FBI alleges.

“Should I have known that somebody walked into a hotel room?” Pitino said. “I don’t see how I could possibly know. … I take ownership for who I hired. I take full responsibility for that.”

Pitino said he took and passed a polygraph test conducted on behalf of his attorneys.

“I’m going to answer to God, and I know the truth,” he said. “Does it hurt me? Of course, it hurts me. I want everybody to be proud of me. It hurts. But, that being said, if I knew something was wrong, I immediately would’ve terminated anybody in that situation. I don’t have any tolerance for people who do the wrong thing in that area.”

Even without the positive polygraph results, the support of his former players and assistant coaches has validated his innocence, Pitino said.

“Not by a lie detector test,” he said. “Just by the text messages my players have sent me, the phone calls from my assistant coaches. I’ve been vindicated in my eyes. Nobody’s been arrested on my staff.”

Pitino said the school’s board of trustees acted in haste by not letting the controversy play out and making sure they had all the facts before casting judgment. The University of Louisville Athletic Association, however, voted unanimously to fire him “for cause” on Monday despite his attorney’s pleas for them to reconsider.

He was released from his Adidas contract on Tuesday and immediately filed a suit against them.

“I felt they were largely responsible for what’s gone on,” Pitino said. “They took my love and my passion away from me. Not all of them. There were other reasons, one being one of my coaches, (they) took my love of my life away, besides my personal family.”

Tom Jurich was fired as the school’s athletics director on Wednesday and assistant coach Kenny Johnson has also been released.

Pitino said he was “1,000 percent” confident that he would not be charged with any wrongdoing in the FBI’s investigation.

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