In the pantheon of head basketball coaches, Rick Pitino is among the best, or at least he's in the team picture. His two national championships (especially at two different institutions) put him in rarefied air, and his seven Final Four appearances over the last four decades are a feat worth celebrating, especially in both the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville corners of the Bluegrass
Commonwealth State. He's a Hall of Famer, and will no doubt go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time.
That gives Pitino a lot of license to opine on a great number of topics, and not some that are typically just in the realm of college basketball. Pitino has enough decades of sport under his belt to be able to be classified as a pundit in some regards. If he wants to talk about the BCS and college football realignment, that makes sense; UL basketball will be affected by that. If the state of academics in college sports are a topic, then perhaps he should comment, since he is one of the people responsible for shepherding "student athletes" through a sports program.
But if morals and actions be the topic of the day, Rick Pitino is probably the last person anyone would want to speak with authority on the subject. Because Rick Pitino is hardly the beacon of moral fortitude, and anyone who tells you differently is either kidding themselves, or trolling you. We'll get to Pitino in a second, but first, let's see what
Which is why, when outgoing Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee did some rather E. Gordon Gee things
last week in December, naturally it was Pitino who decided to open his mouth.
"What really gets me boiling," said Pitino, "it's not Louisville or Kentucky. What gets me boiling is the fact he knocks the Catholics at Notre Dame. I don't know what denomination he is or what lord he prays to, but trying to get jokes out of that, it really, really boils me . ... It's a pompous attitude and certainly I have a major problem with him, not with Ohio State, and he's a pompous ass for making those statements."
From any other coach, the point is not only well-taken, but poignant. I can only assume that Pitino is Catholic himself, and has no problem playing the Bible Card when it comes to taking a shot at another human, though that same bible would advocate turning of other cheeks and so forth. But it got Pitino mad, and he decided to let slip the dogs of verbal war; it's a free county and Pitino took advantage of his position and prowess with the media. Fair play to him.
But could Pitino have picked a worse target for his ire? One of the things that has made Gee an astounding fundraiser is his sense of humor, and ability to get down to the same level as his audience. Stories abound about Gee hitting up fraternities, and he was the star of a flash mob when the new student center opened at Ohio State a few years ago. In Columbus he's a star: more recognizable than a starting offensive tackle or backup point guard. In both his stints at Ohio State, he has created (and later recreated) an institution that has seen the "safety school" badge fall from Ohio State's ranks.
Forget, if you can, the fact that Gee has been the greatest fundraising asset in the history of The Ohio State University. You should not have to do that, considering the weight of that statement, but let's do it hypothetically anyway. Gee's statements, taken off the cuff as the result of a routine AP records request, are jokes. Not great jokes, but jokes nonetheless. Back in December, realignment was one of the hottest topics in all of college football, and Gee had a room and a microphone and he did what Gordon Gee does. The university is likely richer for it.
That is, until the other shoe dropped today, when Gee announced he would retire amid criticism about his statements. Surely Pitino must be happy that the "pompous ass" is no longer running Ohio State.
But that's where it boggles my mind that Pitino felt like calling out a mensch like Gee. If the worst thing one can say about Gee is that he makes bad jokes about the Commonwealth of Kentucky and spends a fairly exorbitant amount on bow ties, then maybe the target need go on another's back. Not the back of someone who
runs ran one of the nation's premier research institutes. Not the back of someone who created more goodwill for Ohio State than Urban Meyer. That target belongs on someone with a more seedy backstory. Someone like on Rick Pitino himself.
All those achievements mentioned above about Rick Pitino are important, but he is not without a footnote or two in his biography. The Karen Sypher incident is hardly news at this point, but has been all but forgotten since Sypher herself was found guilty of extorting Pitino. But the truth stands out: Pitino cheated on his wife, he paid Sypher for an abortion, he had (ahem) timing issues, he apologized, and he invoked 9/11.
This is the guy crying foul over a few harmless jokes?
Was Gee wrong to say what he said? Probably – a major university president should probably watch his mouth when speaking to anyone outside his family. But should there be any credence given to Rick Pitino's take on the situation? Hardly.
Pitino did some very bad things a few years ago at Louisville and kept his job, despite the fact that his contract had a morality clause that could have led to his ouster. Gee told jokes, ticked off a few "important" people, and retired because of it.