It’s the one thing that coaches at top collegiate programs demand. For an NCAA-mandated 20 hours a week, they control their players from practice to the weight room, film room and beyond. During this allotted time, collegiate coaches dictate their players’ every movement.
It’s once they leave the field or court, however, that head coaches become particularly hyper-vigilant about every last detail of their players’ lives. From the classes they take to the meals they eat to the way they spend their nights off, head coaches at top programs make every effort to stay informed about all aspects of their players’ personal lives. They don’t have a choice. In today’s “what have you done for me lately” attitude toward college coaches, the stakes are too high for coaches not to be obsessive perfectionists when it comes to their players. So an army of academic advisors, nutritionists, mentors, tutors and assistants help monitor every last move a Division I athlete makes.
Which is why Coach Rick Pitino’s recent disclaimer seems difficult to believe.
In the midst of yet another sex scandal — this time not his own, but rather one involving his own players — the head coach of the Louisville Cardinals basketball team has pleaded complete ignorance to allegations that Louisville staff members have shelled out money for the services of female escorts to entertain recruits and parents during official recruiting visits for years.
When asked about his job status following a confession from an escort who had reportedly slept with dozens of Louisville recruits, Pitino calmly stated on a local radio show, “The only comment I’ve made is I know nothing about any of this, so I don’t know what resigning would accomplish. I think that’s the cowardly way out.”
For a coach to say he was unaware of his assistants’ or players’ activities on any given weekend would be one cause for concern, but these are official recruitment visits we’re talking about. Coaches at top-tier programs like Louisville meticulously plan recruitment visits months in advance, anxiously awaiting the chance to show a crop of 5-star recruits what their schools have to offer. It is on these select weekends — the most important out-of-season dates of the year — that Pitino wants us to believe he suddenly had no idea what his team was up to.
Make no mistake, the Cardinals’ coach is hardly the only one responding to the media with an “I didn’t know” plea.
In the last year, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill basketball coach Roy Williams claimed ignorance regarding his players’ involvement in “paper classes” that drew NCAA investigations during the winter. More recently, Southern Methodist University basketball coach Larry Brown claimed he had no idea that a graduate assistant on his staff was actually taking online classes on behalf of one of the star players. Both coaches’ statements demonstrated that these men were utterly flabbergasted by the NCAA accusations and subsequent sanctions.
It is not my job as a columnist to indict men of national prowess such as Pitino, Brown or Williams in these instances. What I can say is that one of two realities is true. One is that these coaches, who have a reputation for having complete control over their programs, know exactly what is going on in their programs and are attempting to mislead the public by pleading their ignorance. The other is that they are being truthful in saying they had no idea what was going on in their program — which is arguably an even greater issue.
Regardless of which reality it is, the end result is the same. An NCAA finding that comes down on a coach for “lack of institutional control” means — one way or another — the coach has failed at an essential function of his job. So when the eventual press conference comes on during SportsCenter and a calm coach with a rehearsed statement disclaims knowledge of a situation, take care to remind yourself that a coach’s deniability often translates into a loss in credibility.
Jimmy McLaughlin is a sophomore in the College. Upon Further Review appears every other Tuesday.