Candid Coaches: After being fired from Louisville will Rick Pitino ever coach college basketball again?

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed more than 100 coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, the coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. Over a span of two weeks, we're posting the results on the 10 questions we asked them.

It's easy to make the argument that no coach in the history of basketball has suffered a more exceptional tarnishing of one's reputation than Richard Andrew Pitino. 

Pitino, a 2013 Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame inductee, was fired with cause from Louisville in October 2017 after his name and his program became irrevocably attached to the FBI's extensive probe into college basketball.

Pitino wasn't charged in the case and neither were any of his assistants. But the allegations that one of his players, freshman Brian Bowen, had third-party representatives with a hand out and a six-figure asking price was the last straw for Pitino. He'd already previously kept his job despite being involved in an affair that became salacious national news, then dodged discharge again at U of L after claims proved true that a former Pitino staffer helped arrange occasional sex-themed parties for players, prospects and prostitutes in an on-campus dormitory. 

There would be no escaping a third scandal, even if Pitino -- as he has maintained throughout -- was unaware of any wrongdoing that took place.

And now, with a book (billed as a tell-all) set to come out in September, a question lingers. Can Pitino manage to find his way back into college coaching? This is a man -- with the exception of the 2017-18 season -- who sat on a basketball bench every fall and winter for the last 44 years, winning 647 games as a Division I coach. 

So we posed the question to the Division I coaching community:

Do you think Rick Pitino will be hired again by a Division I school? 

rick-pitino.jpg
CBS Sports / Mike Meredith

Yes

54 percent

No

46 percent

Quotes that stood out

Those who said yes ...

  • "I think if you look around, whether it's been college football or sports in general, life in general, guys that have proven they're capable of winning and being successful ultimately get more chances than others. If you take it at face value, he may be the best coach of all time in college basketball. I think there's going to be somebody that gives him another chance at some level. Someone's going to roll the dice on him. That's the history of our game."
  • "As long as one of the Adidas guys doesn't implicate him under oath, he'll definitely coach again. If there's really no evidence he knew about the [Brian] Bowen stuff, he'll coach again."
  • "Administrators have continually proven that they will re-hire the guy that was fired for cheating/lying/stealing vs. the the guy who was fired for losing. So I have to say yes."
  • "The more time that passes, the less anybody is going to care. I think he'll be coaching again this time next year. I know he wants to -- and somebody will give him the chance."
  • "Yes, but would be a complete joke. But based on many previous hires of guys, I'm sure someone will want the publicity."
  • "A lot of athletic directors and presidents wanting to win the press conference. Last Chance U should do a season with him if that happens."
  • "Yes. Within two years. A famous brand name that needs to be brought back to relevance. Only a matter of time. He wins big and sells tickets."
  • "Wouldn't think so after his tell-all book comes out, but Mark Gottfried got hired this offseason, so my guess is yes."
  • "I do think he will be hired again. How many chances did Jim Harrick get?"
  • "I hope not. But, after some time away, possibly in the pros, some AD might see it as an opportunity to kick-start their program with a high-profile hire. I would like to think that Pitino would be ready to do other things at this point in his life."

Those who said no ...

  • "Everything is so hyped now. From the #MeToo movement to this FBI scandal to all the sexual misconduct that's been going on. I think president and the people that cut their checks are more watchdog-like in terms of not allowing things like this to happen. Anyone with questionable character, they won't be hired now. They're making it hard for kids to transfer from one school to the other if they have these issues. How is a university going to hire somebody who has previous issues with their history?"
  • "No. Because of his tell-all book. It depends on what he puts in that book."
  • "I think there may not be a better basketball coach out there at any level. I think he is a genius when it comes to basketball coaching. I'm disappointed this is going to be within his legacy, as opposed to how great a basketball coach he is."
  • "I think a D-I school will try and hire him, but not sure he will coach again. I could see him going overseas and coaching pro team."
  • "It is possible, but at this stage in his career and with everything going on with the FBI, I am not sure there will be a school that wants to take the risk."
  • "I don't think he would go to a small school, like Tubby Smith has ... because I don't believe his ego would let him do that."

The takeaway

The first question that has to be asked here: Does Pitino want to coach again? He's said on record myriad times in the past year how much he cherishes the profession, how he lives in the ruts and crevices of the customs that make the job worth all the hours, travel, losses and frustration that go into it. 

So if the answer is still yes, the next question is: Does he want to walk back into Division I, knowing full well (and this is another thing he's acknowledged) that he will never fully recover his reputation? If he wants to return, and can, he'll do so brandishing a figurative scarlet letter for every game he coaches. 

If that answer is also a yes, or becomes a yes in the coming months or year or two, then the final question is the most critical.

Which athletic director and president will be willing to hire Pitino? 

What type of school would take on the inevitable onslaught of criticism and, perhaps most importantly, do this knowing that the NCAA recently just passed rules that include harsher punishments for athletic departments and university presidents alike for any severe wrongdoing? 

What message would it send if Pitino were to be hired again? A substandard, if not honest, one. Winning over all.  

Before we get to that point, as a couple of coaches mentioned to me, what is or isn't detailed in Pitino's book could prove important. If he owns some mistakes, perhaps humility accelerates the process. Perhaps the book can atone for something even if it will never prove anything of Pitino's innocence and self-described ignorance. But if the book is a prog rock-like extension of the same song, without ownership of wrongdoing or admission of guilt, then what really has Pitino provided that would make an AD and/or president believe he is any more credible now than a year ago? 

His talent with a whiteboard and command with a practice whistle is irrefutable. Some do believe he's the best tactician in college hoops history. A living legend, someone who was so brilliant with devising scouting reports, adjusting in-game and scrunching the maximum out of his players. You combine that reputation with the reality that there others who've been attached to scandal and have managed to return, and yes, it's conceivable that we could look up in a year or two and see Pitino back in the sport.

The majority of coaches I spoke with who believe it's possible also think it likely he'd land at a mid- or low-major and close out his days grinding on a salary a fraction of the size he commanded at Louisville. If that were to happen, it would be a full-circle coaching life cycle for Pitino, who turns 66 on Sept. 18. He began as an assistant at Hawaii, then got his first head job at Boston University in 1978. 

If that happened, he'd find camaraderie with another. There's a fellow Hall of Famer who is back on the sideline this season after time away from the game. Like Pitino, he coached teams to multiple national titles. Septuagenarian Jim Calhoun is expected to embark on his first season as a Division III coach at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut. His devotion to the craft tugged him back to the game that made him an immortal in New England after coaching UConn to three NCAA titles.

No matter the gym size, pay check, fanfare (lack thereof) or television exposure, Calhoun is still interested in coaching. After building the program at St. Joseph, once he's officially named coach he'll match wits with the likes of coaches at William Paterson University, Western Connecticut State and Salve Regina. 

It's the kind of work Pitino probably has enormous respect for, if not immense envy of at this point. And there's no telling he ever gets that chance again, no matter how many books he writes or reasons he gives. 

CBS Sports' Candid Coaches series for college basketball

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CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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