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Rick Pitino returns for visit to Louisville, and book signing, with more of the same as he seeks closure

By Russ Brown
Kentucky Today

Anyone who tuned in either in person or on a streaming version to hear Rick Pitino’s return to Louisville Friday night expecting anything different than what the former Louisville basketball coach had repeatedly said previously was disappointed.

Pitino’s book signing and interview sponsored by the Courier-Journal at the downtown Omni Hotel was basically more of the same: He had no knowledge of the scandals that led to his being fired last October. He won’t coach again.

The long list of those who contributed to his demise, in his mind, is still Louisville board of trustee chairman David Grissom, former trustee John Schnatter, Gov. Matt Bevin, the Southern District of New York prosecutors and the NCAA. 

And he pretty much proved Bevin’s charge that he is a bitter, angry man who insists on blaming others for his downfall.

Former Louisville coach Rick Pitino made a return visit to Kentucky Friday night and sought closure during his brief visit promoting his newest book. (Kentucky Today/Tammie Brown)

After an estimated 400 people paid $25 and lined up for Pitino to sign a book, he sat for an hour-long interview with C-J sportswriter Jeff Greer in his first public appearance in Lousiville since he was unanimously fired nearly a year ago. He had vowed never to return to the city until Grissom and Schnatter were off the board. Schnatter resigned in July after he used a racial slur on a conference call, but Grissom is still chairman.

“Now that half is gone, I’ll stay a short period of time until the other one leaves,” Pitino said. “I have so many friends in the Louisville area. Anytime you spend 16 years somewhere, not even David Grissom can spoil that. I had great trepidation about coming back, but it’s been a very special day for me.”

Before going to the book signing, Pitino said he spoke to the Bellarmine basketball team, which is coached by his friend and former assistant, Scott Davenport. On Saturday he planned to visit another former assistant, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, and also speak to the Bearcats before flying back to the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., area.

Through with coaching

Pitino reiterated that he is through with coaching, although he has had offers from a  New Zealand professional team and overseas, “but I’m not leaving my children and grandchildren for anything.”

“I don’t believe I’ll coach again,” he said. “I’m done with coaching. I’ve had a lot of stress, and I don’t want any part of it. I know if I coached I would have stress and it’s just not something I want to go through again. It’s a good time to leave. It’s not a good ending, but it’s a good time to leave. I have a lot of fond memories of Louisville, 16 great years.”
His future plans include a podcast, for which he said his first guest will be former Louisville star and current Utah Jazz standout Donovan Mitchell. He said he also hopes to land Derek Jeter and President Obama for future segments.

“It will be about motivation,” he said. “It will be about motivating young athletes. That’s one way I can stay involved in the game I love.”

He will also release a weekly “Run to the Final Four” list with teams he thinks are capable of advancing to the national semifinals.

Book is ‘closure’

Pitino said he looked upon writing the book as “closure.” 

“Gov. Bevin is right, I am bitter and angry because I lost an incredible job, my passion, my life,” he said. “I eat, sleep and drink the game of basketball. The book is the gospel truth. I believe in the rules and ethics of basketball; I don’t believe in any form of cheating. I feel good about the book because it is the truth.”

He said the biggest regret during his career at Louisville had nothing to do with basketball, evidently, referring to the Karen Sypher affair.

“My biggest regret was a personal thing I did wrong,” he said. “Nothing to do with basketball. I don’t have any regrets about basketball. Any regrets I have are personal in nature because my wife and children are the most important thing and if I let them down somewhere along the way that’s my biggest regret. But basketball-wise I’ve got no regrets.”

Without being asked, Pitino addressed his legacy at the end of the interview.

“Legacy is really an inflated opinion of yourself,” he said. “I call ego edging greatness out, so I never talk about my legacy because I don’t think I’m that significant. But if I had to say what I want to leave behind it’s my assistant coaches, my players and the people that rooted along the way.”

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college basketball and football for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at www.0926.russ.brown@gmail.com

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