"Tough times never last, tough people do." - Anonymous
Allow me to begin this piece by saying it's been one helluva ride......
From the celebrated and unthinkable day that Tom Jurich announced Rick Pitino as the new head men's basketball coach at the University of Louisville, it seems that we as UofL fans have experienced more ups and downs than an established day trader on Wall Street. And in that vein, as this 2015-16 Cardinal squad prepares to take on arguably it's stoutest challenge of the present controversy-filled season by playing at Virginia, the question that many of us as Louisville basketball supporters have is as follows: win or lose, will this be the last game that Rick Pitino ever coaches as the head honcho for The Ville?
WHY THE RIDE MIGHT BE OVER
A person can only endure so much stress. And whether that stress is self-inflicted or involuntarily bestowed upon someone, every individual, a stoic Rick Pitino included, has his or her limits. Coaching at a high profile school like Louisville alone, where winning at the highest level is an annual expectation, is enough to produce a head full of gray hair. But when you throw in a couple of scandals where you are the centerpiece of discussion and ones that get the highest level of attention by every local and national news station, newspaper and sports-based web page, then it's plausible to think that someone may no longer want to be a part of something so mentally taxing.
Rick Pitino has always struck me as a fighter; the type of guy who thrives off hearing, reading and seeing others doubt his ability to do what he does best: lead and succeed. In modern terms we refer to those individuals as "haters." But at some point, even a proven tough-nosed winner like Pitino has to have a breaking point where he decides that he wants to finish out life in a low key manner where his every move, statement and dress of choice isn't obsessively broken down by others around him doesn't he? At first, the thought of Pitino actually being human and capable of walking away from the game that made him a legend might look to be implausible. But the fact is, that scenario is not completelyfarfetched for a guy who has other passions in life such as his family, horse racing, golf and watching his son Richard try and follow in his footsteps.
WHY THE RIDE DOESN'T END TODAY, OR ANYTIME SOON
So now that it's been discussed how and why Rick Pitino might indeed be concluding his coaching career at the University of Louisville after today's game, let's get real.......he isn't going anywhere. For every challenge and obstacle, Rick Pitino has always had an answer. He was taxed with resurrecting one of the most historic basketball programs in the history of college basketball in Kentucky. Not only did he build it back, but he recreated a machine that has been succeeding ever since. Later, and as we all are keenly aware, Pitino would be summoned to replace a Hall of Fame legend in Denny Crum and catapult another historic program back to its winning ways. He not only met that expectation, but he took UofL back to the top of the college basketball food chain. And whether you then want to include the Karen Sypher ordeal or the current scandal focused around the actions of one Andre McGee, the fact remains that Pitino has taken it all in stride all the while finding ways to develop players and win games.
For the longest time, I for some reason questioned just how much Rick Pitino actually "needed" the University of Louisville. I mean after all, he did coach at UofL's loathed in-state rival before replacing Coach Crum. In addition, he had previously coached the Knicks and Celtics, both legendary NBA franchises, and made plenty of cash while doing such I might add.
But presently, I no longer question the relationship and its substance between Pitino and all things UofL. Sure, there's always going to be a figure or two who find his or her life's calling to be a critic. Regardless, it's my personal opinion that Pitino really DOES love being the head coach at the University of Louisville and has a genuine admiration for both Tom Jurich and the Cardinal fan base. I also think that admiration for Pitino from the greatest college basketball fans on Earth is overwhelmingly mutual And it's this admiration built on a two way street of loyalty that I personally believe will ultimately bring him back next season. I suspect the decision to return or ride off into the sunset will be PITINO'S and no one else's. And as in the past, I think he answers the bell yet again and comes out swinging next season by putting a team on the floor that's going to be both entertaining and hard as hell to beat.
I have always found there to generally be four groups of UofL fans when it comes to supporting (or not) Rick Pitino as the head men's basketball coach. The groups can be best described as the following........
- I will always be loyal to Denny Drum so I could take him (Pitino) or leave him fan
- I support Coach P no matter what through thick and thin fan
- I like Pitino but I'm a UofL supporter first and foremost and just want to win fan
- I'm tired of the drama and ready for a change fan
No matter which group you fall in (for the record, I think groups one and four have become the minorities over the years), the time to support the program as a whole and remain steadfast as an unconditionally loyal fan is RIGHT NOW no matter what ultimately transpires concerning Coach Pitino and his future. The coming weeks are going to be as hard as any I can remember as a Louisville basketball fan. And while it may be admirable to put your and my support fully behind Coach Walz and the women's team, it should also be expected. But what also is expected is the frustration that will arise when filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket in two weeks. The 2013 title seems so long ago all of a sudden. But those moments can and will return to Louisville in time. And I think the quickest and most efficient way for that to transpire is for Rick Pitino to remain the head basketball coach.
There is nobody, Chris Mack or Billy Donovan included, I would want more than Rick Pitino commanding the UofL sideline going forward while leading arguably the most likeable and one of the most talented rosters in years back to a deep run in late March next season. For me personally, I am hoping to see UofL lay the groundwork and create some positive mojo for a special season in 2016-17 by shocking the Cavaliers this evening. But regardless of the outcome, I want to enjoy watching the Lee and Lewis show one last time. They have been special and will be missed.
As for Coach Pitino, I'm not worried. I don't think the ride with him at the helm ends in Charlottesville. In fact, I think the ride presses on and we see the beginning of a new era lead by a coach who is hungrier than ever to prove why his name is engraved on a plaque in Springfield, Massachusetts.
GO CARDS! BEAT VIRGINIA!