LOUISVILLE IS BURNING, BUT WE NEED NOT PLAY THE FIDDLE
“Let's get this out of the way right now: the talk of firing Pitino in January or him being on the hot seat is absurd.”
Mike Rutherford, like his grandfather John Ed Pearce before him, is an incredibly gifted and insightful writer. But, as we all know, only the Pope and Darrell Griffith are infallible. At the midpoint of Coach Pitino’s eleventh season at the University of Louisville, the Basketball program has reached both a literal and metaphorical crossroads. Now, as a community, we have to calmly and rationally ask ourselves, “Are we heading in the right direction?”
One Final Four and two Elite 8’s in ten years is, by an any objective measure, a disappointment, especially when one considers the incredibly generous financial compensation Coach Pitino has received for his time at Louisville. It is also important to note that both of those Elite 8 teams underachieved. Even more disturbing, is the long term decline of the basketball program during Coach Pitino's tenure.
Several years ago, Kentucky media personality Matt Jones conducted an informal poll of National College Basketball commentators as to their thoughts on the greatest programs of all time. Common in all responses was a hierarchy of Kentucky, UNC, and UCLA in some order at the first tier, Duke, Kansas and Indiana in some order at the second tier, and Louisville at the unanimous number seven spot. During Coach Pitino’s tenure, can we honestly tell ourselves that Louisville has not been knocked down to the eighth spot behind Michigan State, with UCONN and Ohio State also close on our heels?
Above all else, Louisville basketball represents community. I attended the game at Rupp Arena where Kentucky played Louisville for the first time under Calipari. What I experienced was a palpable sense of blood lust from a rabid and hostile fan base. I attended the final game at Freedom Hall as well. In contrast, I experienced a celebration and affirmation of community and fellowship. Now, I see a team that is at odds with itself; I see teammates torn asunder by petty jealousy, and a coach who refuses to accept the responsibility of his position. I see a “leader” who preaches a hollow creed of “Louisville First,” but who refuses to act in the best interests of the University, as evidenced by his ardent opposition to Big 12 membership.
As Tom Petty so astutely observed, “As we celebrate mediocrity, all the folks upstairs want to see, is how much you’ll pay, for what you used to get for free.” Make no mistake, for the first time in my 28 years on this Earth, I witnessed a Louisville team quit last night. As we have reached the midway point of our eleventh year of mediocrity, we have to ask ourselves, do we, as a community, deserve better? Do our student athletes, who have given so much of their lives, hearts and souls, to a Byzantine, Draconian and inscrutable coaching regime, deserve better? The answer is clear, just as the seat is very hot indeed.