By Chris Kenning
(Reuters) – The University of Louisville fired Hall of Fame basketball coach Rick Pitino on Monday amid a national investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of allegations of corruption in college basketball.
Louisville’s athletic association voted unanimously to dismiss Pitino, one of the most successful college basketball coaches in history, several weeks after the FBI alleged money from apparel sponsor Adidas was used to pay a prospective recruit.
The university placed Pitino and Athletic Director Tom Jurich on leave Sept. 27 after the university acknowledged it was being investigated.
“I have been given no ’cause’ for termination of my contract,” Pitino said in an affidavit, NBC News reported. He added: “I will fight tirelessly to defend my reputation.” His attorney, Steve Pence, told reporters on Monday that Pitino was not involved in the payment scheme and should be reinstated.
“There isn’t just a single reason,” Louisville interim President Greg Postel said following the announcement. “There were a number of issues that, over time, were brought to our attention. And we simply felt that this was in the best interest of the university and make the decision at this point in time.”
Louisville was already on probation for a scandal involving strippers and escorts entertaining recruits and other players in dorm rooms. Pitino has said he was unaware of those events. The NCAA last year vacated the program’s wins from 2010 to 2014.
Severance has not been determined, university spokesman John Karman told Reuters. Pitino is owed more than $40 million under a contract that was to run through 2026, he said.
Four assistant college basketball coaches at other schools were among those arrested on federal corruption charges on Sept. 26 after they were caught taking bribes to steer NBA-destined players toward certain sports agents and financial advisers.
Court papers showed the FBI has been investigating the criminal influence of money on student athletes affiliated with the NCAA since 2015.
Pitino, 65, took over at Louisville 16 years ago after spending four seasons with the National Basketball Association’s Boston Celtics. Prior to that he was a coach at the University of Kentucky, where he led the men’s basketball program back to prominence and won a national title in 1996.
(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Dan Grebler)