The University of Louisville Athletic Association board of directors voted unanimously Monday afternoon to authorize UofL’s interim president Greg Postel to begin the process of firing Hall of Fame basketball coach Rick Pitino for cause under the terms of his contract.
This move comes nearly a week after the explosive federal indictments targeting corruption and bribes in NCAA college basketball, with multiple UofL coaches alleged to be involved in a scheme to bribe multiple recruits to come to the school. Last Wednesday, Postel placed Pitino on administrative leave — along with athletics director Tom Jurich — and on Friday, he moved quickly to promote assistant coach David Padgett to take over as the interim head coach of the team.
Postel told reporters after Monday’s ULAA meeting that he would now draft a letter to Pitino giving him formal notice that he was initiating the process under the coach’s contract to terminate his employment for cause. Postel said this letter “will go through in detail and explain the logic of the decision” and “will be crafted as soon as possible this week,” though he did not want “to speculate about how exactly it will be worded at this point.”
In Postel’s letter to Pitino last week informing the coach that he was being placed on unpaid administrative leave, Postel said that the allegations within the federal indictment would “constitute material violations of your Employment Contract.” That letter also stated that under the terms of his contract, Pitino would be “given an opportunity to be heard in response to this appropriate discipline within the next ten days should you choose to meet with me to discuss this matter further.”
Postel said that the letter he would now draft to Pitino would be “more detailed” and further “outline the logic of the decision.”
According to UofL spokesman John Karman, the 10-day period of the termination process will actually commence either Monday or when Pitino receives the letter. He did not immediately have any additional information about what other actions would take place in this period.
It is believed that if UofL follows the correct protocol of firing Pitino for cause under his contract, it could save the university up to $44 million in future salary that would have been owed to the coach. Postel said that litigation is always a possibility when dealing with matters of employment, but that he did not expect to pay any additional kind of severance or payout to Pitino once he leaves.
“There would be (no payments) beyond the terms that are outlined in his agreement,” said Postel. “So, we would honor all aspects of that, but we are not contemplating changing the language that’s in his agreement.”
Asked if was hard for himself or the board to take such an action against Pitino, Postel said that firing an employee for cause “is an extremely difficult decision, no mater who the person is.”
“The fact that he has the accomplishments he does is really unrelated,” said Postel. “It’s important that we be fair and follow the agreement and do this right for any employee.”
Pitino’s attorney Steve Pence — who says his client has already been effectively fired — has not replied to an email seeking the coach’s comment on the board’s action.
Jurich’s status remains unchanged
Earlier Monday morning, the UofL board of trustees discussed the basketball scandal and Jurich’s status in a two-hour executive session that was closed to the public, ultimately taking no actions before they adjourned. Postel then stated that he would announce the hiring of a new interim athletic director Tuesday afternoon.
Asked after the afternoon ULAA meeting if any conclusions should be drawn about Jurich not receiving the same notice of termination as Pitino, Postel noted that these are two separate personnel matters that are under the jurisdiction of two different boards, “so it’s not surprising they may not exactly be on the same course.”
Postel reiterated his statements from last week that Jurich could conceivably return to his job, as he has not been fired.
“When a person is on administrative leave, by definition that person coming back is always an option,” said Postel. “There’s been no determination on Mr. Jurich. So I guess the answer to your question is yes, that’s an option for anyone who’s on administrative leave.”
Before the ULAA meeting, almost every head coach from UofL’s athletics department held a meeting in which they reportedly expressed unanimous support for Jurich. Asked about that meeting, Postel said: “I certainly understand the loyalty of these coaches. I don’t hold that against them.”
Postel added that he and the board would remain supporters of every team within the athletics department, but said that “it’s going take everyone a little while to adjust as the circumstances here continue to change. This is a moving picture, and there will be more and more details in the days to come.”
Postel’s letter to Jurich last week placing him on paid administrative leave stating that he was required under his contract to supervise coaches and assure their adherence to the law and NCAA policies, calling the fallout of the indictments and negative publicity placed upon the university as “unacceptable.” Postel also stated that Jurich’s negotiation of the recent lucrative sponsorship deal with Adidas “was conducted without timely or appropriate consultation” with either the president of members of the ULAA board.