Louisville's athletic department -- specifically its men's basketball program -- is a disastrous, embarrassing quagmire. Rick Pitino, a Hall of Fame coach who took the Cardinals to a 2013 national championship (presently in danger of being vacated by the NCAA), is on unpaid administrative leave and surely to be severed from the university in an official capacity once the lawyers lawyer everything out. His boss and good friend, athletic director Tom Jurich, has been put on a paid leave and figures to suffer a similar fate.
"We're not going to tolerate what we have learned about," Louisville interim president Greg Postel said at a Wednesday press conference.
The official start of basketball practice is days away. The Cardinals don't have a coach ... and might not have any assistants from the current staff on the Louisville bench this upcoming season. Remember, the FBI's unprecedented investigation into the shady world of college hoops recruiting includes, among a library's worth of evidence, a Louisville assistant caught on tape this past July conspiring to receive tens of thousands of dollars in order to land a 2019 prospect.
This while Louisville is in the infant stages of its NCAA probation for the escort scandal, a case that is currently under appeal.
And then there's Brian Bowen, a five-star recruit in the class of 2017 and current Louisville freshman. He appears destined to never attempt a shot on a college basketball court. Connect the fairly clear dots in the FBI's complaint and you'll see his recruitment, and the $100,000 payment allegedly supplied to his family, broke not only NCAA rules but -- more importantly -- federal laws. Postel did not identify Bowen by name at his press conference, but he did say one Louisville player is "being withheld from NCAA activities ... indefinitely."
What's Louisville to do? It has no coach; it has no athletic director. It doesn't even have a sitting president. But Postel, the interim president, has an out. He needs to get Tom Crean's number and make a phone call -- today.
There are many qualified and interested candidates to replace Pitino. Crean has the advantage of coming in with no baggage whatsoever. He's not currently holding a job, and he's never had a run-in with the NCAA. He is arguably the most qualified candidate who isn't already employed by another school.
Crean, who owns a 356-231 record, was fired from Indiana in March after nine seasons with the Hoosiers. He took Marquette to a Final Four and made three Sweet 16s with IU. He also won a pair of Big Ten titles and most famously recruited and coached future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade.
Beyond all that, Crean has long held a disdain for the cheaters in college basketball. He's never had a scandal touch his regimes.
Perhaps most importantly, he's eager to coach again. But it has to be the right spot. Louisville might be the perfect marriage. The Cardinals will undoubtedly have sanctions and probation coming, but Crean might not be able to get a better job all things considered.
Postel said Wednesday he intends to hire an interim athletic director and interim head coach in the next 48 hours. That could indicate a willingness to hire from within, promoting a current Louisville employee and assistant to the respective roles. But that might be a hard sell given that Pitino could not survive this scandal. If he couldn't, how would it look for one of Pitino's guys to take control of the program?
Crean would bring coaching acumen and a veteran voice. Simply put, he's the best possible option to salvage Louisville's season. The Cardinals might lose Bowen, but even without him, U of L has a claim to a top-25 roster this season.
"There's no reason this team can't have a good season," Postel said.
He's right. Crean has a number of professional options in front of him, including cushy TV work, but Louisville is a top-10 job in college basketball. If he gets a call, he should strongly consider taking the job, even if on an interim basis.
According to Postel, the employment of Louisville's sitting assistants will be decided by the yet-to-be-determined interim athletic director. There are a lot of moving pieces that have to be pinned in a very short window.
If Louisville opts to neither go that route nor promote from within, another name to consider would be Thad Matta, who was fired from Ohio State in June but is also battling some health problems. Matta's been to multiple Final Fours, and many in the business feel like he got a raw deal when he was removed in June. Former Georgetown coach John Thompson III and former Illinois coach John Groce could also be worth a look.
But Crean makes the most sense. He's not a get-out-of-jail-free card, but he's the closest thing to it.
High-level coaches are always in demand, and Crean of course knows and has recruited that part of the country for years. He's still got a lot of coaching years ahead of him. If Louisville has the inclination to make that phone call, it might be the one move that could salvage the season ahead and perhaps the long-term health of the program.
Cardinal Authority's Jody Demling, who has been covering the program exclusively for 10 years, knows what went on behind-the-scenes leading up to Rick Pitino being placed on leave. He's on-campus right now with the latest impact on recruiting, the next coach and all of the fallout. If you're a Louisville fan, you won't want to miss it. Visit CardinalAuthority.com now for the very latest.