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When Quitting is Courageous — and the Winning Strategy


(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

As the volume turns to 11 on calls for Rick Pitino to vacate the University of Louisville Cardinals’ hot seat — voluntarily or not — the coach remains obstinate: “I don’t know what resigning would accomplish,” he told his friend and Louisville broadcasting legend Terry Meiners. I think that’s the cowardly way out.

Pitino’s sentiment is about as surprising as a post-bender hangover.  Quitting is the very antithesis of the über-hyper-competitive culture of big time sport. From tee-ball to the World Series, athletes are conditioned to play hard until the final strike:  Giving up violates the core of the sporting omertà code.  As the Bard of sports clichés, Vince Lombardi, once pontificated: “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”

From a personal perspective, the Coach’s position is also easy to understand.  Pitino’s prowled the hardwood sidelines for more than four decades — his entire adulthood — he knows of no other life.  Leaving the bench in many ways might feel like dying.  Leaving under the circumstances of a tawdry scandal that he didn’t create might seem the final act of an operatic tragedy.

It’s instructive that in recent weeks, two other blue-collar, self-made high fliers encountered a similar career juncture.  Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, the second- and third-highest ranking officials in the land, each abandoned their lifelong dreams to declare their early retirements.  Both deliberated publicly, agonizingly, understanding that far more than their personal ambitions and cushy perks of position were at stake.   Both concluded that sublimating their own self-interest was best for the country — best for the values that had fought for all their lives — and that quitting was the most courageous thing that they could do.

On a much smaller scale, I’ve been there too. Derby weekend 2007,  I found myself running uphill, without any traction, in a crowded Democratic primary field for Governor.  My chances of pulling off victory were extraordinarily remote, but I had worked so hard, painstakingly, for so many years, sacrificed so much of my life, to get to that position.  And as Pitino this week expressed about his own circumstances, I didn’t want to let down my team: my staff, my contributors, my friends.

Yet staying in the race might have helped re-elect our controversial GOP governor. So I dropped out and endorsed the candidate whose integrity I respected most, whose values were closest to mine.  And whatever you think of Steve Beshear; from this progressive, good-government advocate’s perspective, my act of surrender was the most powerful and important action of my entire career.

It was also the first step in a much longer journey of self-liberation. I’d been living in a hermetically-sealed bubble for years, surrounded by insiders who peppered me daily about political advancement, intoxicated by a system which only valued winning and the access and the power that come with it.  Stepping outside of the bubble seemed frightening — like dying. What would my life be worth without pursuing higher office?

But quitting the gubernatorial race empowered me to take a closer look at the career path I’d chosen. I really didn’t like what politics was doing to my soul.  So I took a leap of faith, and I quit…for good.  Nearly a decade later, I’ve never looked back. I escaped the prison I’d built for myself.

Of course, for better and for worse, as Lloyd Bentsen might say,  “Jonathan, you’re no Rick Pitino.” I’ve never come close to approaching the vaunted heights of my profession as the Hall of Fame coach.  I’ve never experienced the unimaginable lows of being a national punchline, the butt of scorn and ridicule and toxic invective as Pitino is experiencing now and back in 2009.  But I do offer proof that life after a dream career can be richer and fuller then the one you elaborately and restlessly constructed for most of your entire life.

Barring some unforeseen revelations — and I think we would have seen the evidence by now in today’s cellphone-camera, social media-sharing world — I believe that Rick Pitino will control his own destiny.  Out of loyalty, out of gratitude, out of fear of enraging Cardinal Nation, I doubt his higher-ups will force the coach’s hand.

Definitely, holding firm would signify another kind of courage — the strength and resolve to stay the course against a fierce headwind of a continued media brickbats and the likelihood of judicial action.

But staying would almost certainly cause great pain to the institutions Pitino loves: the team of teenagers who must endure the taunting and teasing (and likely probation penalties); the long-term competitiveness of a squad whose recruiting will be undermined by parents concerned about their children’s welfare; and the integrity of an increasingly respected university striving to build its national reputation.

There’s little chance that the ball coach will listen to my counsel, or the advice of the thousands of self-appointed experts who’ve opined on this subject.  But if he were to hire me for crisis managementI’d offer him a path of far less resistance than the one he’s currently treading:

Resign.

Reiterate your lack of involvement or knowledge in the particular circumstances, but take full responsibility for the institutional failure that caused them.

Apologize sincerely and profusely.

Declare that stepping away reflects your deep love of your players, the team, and the university — that it is the necessary first step for healing.

Leave the sport and public life for a year — no broadcasting either — travel the world, play golf, run horses in distant lands…do anything that you and Joanne and the kids been putting off because of your career.

Quietly contribute — through money, time and labor — to charities and causes about which you have a passion.

And after a year, if you are still itching to get back into basketball — if you haven’t decided that life is richer after sports — there will always be a place for you.  The American people love second acts, and are especially willing to forgive humans who never intended to hurt anyone.

Quitting will require the deepest reservoir of courage that you’ve ever been able to muster — exercising intellectual and emotional muscles that have laid dormant for all your life.  But in the end, it could seal your legacy as a Hall of Fame coach, a champion teacher, and most importantly, a quality human being.

Article written by Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller, The Recovering Politician (Twitter: @RecoveringPol), writes about the politics of sport and the sport of politics...and sometimes about bourbon. Jonathan has been elected twice as Kentucky's State Treasurer; practices as a crisis management attorney; authored three books on faith, public policy and crisis management; serves as a Contributor to The Daily Beast, played straight man on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; reached the final table of the World Series of Poker; and with his summer camp sweetheart, raised two remarkable twenty-something daughters.

83 responses to “When Quitting is Courageous — and the Winning Strategy”

  1. Delaney Marks

    So refreshing to read another JM piece; punctuated correctly, articulate, thoughtful, and a primer for Big Mouthed Ego-Jerks on how to write a long piece with an opening paragraph, supporting paragraphs, and an actual conclusion. The difference is astounding.

    All that said, I believe you are operating on a false premise. Rick Pitino
    is not a “good man”. He is a con man. For this man to even be CAPABLE
    of humble honesty could only take a dose of Divine Intervention that
    would kill most people. “Quality Human Being”? Even you can’t
    believe that.

    1. Ethan American

      Au contraire: there is nothing that is even the slightest bit “refreshing” about this sappy, useless piece. Not only is it full of grammatical and punctuation errors, but it suffers from the usual pseudo intellectual hubris and self-aggrandizement we have come to expect from Miller.

      If KSR had an actual editor, he would have told Miller that “Giving” is incorrectly capitalized in the second paragraph, as “Resign” is in the thirteenth; that using a contraction for a proper noun and the word “has” is extremely disfavored in written English; that “each abandoned their” is incorrect, and should have been “each abandoned his”; that “which” is incorrect in the seventh paragraph, and should have been written “that”; that when he wrote “kids been” he meant “kids have been” but due to careless proofing left out the word; that he incorrectly omitted the serial comma that should have appeared in “money, time[,] and labor”; and that “have laid” is grammatically incorrect, and should read “have lain”.

      By the way, Johnny, the omertà code means you don’t rat out your fellow criminals, not that you play until the final out. It has application to Mentrezl Harrell, perhaps, but not to Pitino. Don’t try to use a pop culture reference if you don’t know what it really means.

      Additionally, neither Boehner nor Biden acted out of courage: each acted because he knew he had been beaten and could not win under existing circumstances, and each desperately wished it were not so. You know: the same reason you dropped out of your Quixotic fantasy of becoming Governor.

      A Pitino resignation would have the same impact on NCAA sanctions as your resignation had on the gubernatorial race: absolutely none. To hold him responsible simply because a thing occurred while he was coach is precisely what we abhor in others when they point out that Calipari was at the helm when Camby and Rose did their dirty deeds. The hypocrisy is obvious.

      KSR: get a professional editor, please.

    2. Eazy E or Eric Wright it's all the same

      You missed the grammatical error of his use of “then” in the last sentence of the ninth paragraph; you’re fired.

  2. chris

    This coming from a guy that’s had countless affairs on his wife. Buys woman gifts and hit on ever young girl that worked at the capitol in Frankfort. Who are you to judge anyone Johnathan miller

    1. Dang Libs!

      Yeah. Them Libs is all the same. Cheatin’ on there wives and sympathizin’ with Commies. They is all cut from the same cloth!

  3. L1CWHORE

    Who was the GOP governor that may have been re elected? Excuse my ignorance but I can’t remember who the last GOP governor of KY

  4. JonMiller

    I cheat on my wife

  5. Chris

    Jonathan can you give us a short story? Every time it’s longer than Breaking Cardinal rules. IMO

    1. uk-blue

      Yet, when Drew writes just as long of an article blindly bashing Louisville and crying that Rick yelled at him at a camp 20 years ago he is hailed as a god.

    2. Leuther

      Aww, uk-blue, U mad, bro? 😉

      #DealWithIt
      #LittleBrothel
      #HaveFunFindingANewCoach
      #EveryoneIsLaughingAtYou
      #UofSleaze

    3. uk-blue

      What would I be mad about? That we got killed last night by Miss. St? I’m just looking forward to rebounding against Tennessee. I hope you didn’t assume that just because I disagree with a writer of a UK based website that my 30 years of fandom went out the window.

  6. Twnky

    For the love of god quit writing for this site. What does this guy have on Matt?

    1. cris

      They are liberals thru and thru…Birds of a feather in other words…

    2. Derpi-Wan KaDerpy
  7. Who is Jonathan Miller?

    Somebody want to enlighten me more on the author of this post?

  8. Linebeard

    Words

  9. Tom B

    Why does this guy write for this site? Does it need content that badly?

    1. uk-blue

      Yeah, can’t we replace his well thought out articles with more posts from Drew and Tyler being “edgy”?

    2. Tom B

      I don’t think I said or even implied more posts from others. Just less from this guy. Learn to read.

    3. uk-blue

      No you didn’t, I was simply offering an alternative but bless your soul.

  10. barb

    PUH LEASE….your political career was possible ONLY because of your highly respected mother and father. Much like several other politicians, but you should have given up long before that “fateful day in 07” and please give up on the writing on this site and get a regular job and leave us alone!

    1. Leuther

      I agree. Right Power!!!

  11. Captain Obvious

    It would be courageous of Jonathan to stop writing these long-winded essays.

    1. CATandMONKEY

      If Miller’s essays are too verbose, perhaps you are not the intended audience. Some people prefer more information than can be adequately relayed in 140 characters. Top Ten Tweets is always a viable option.
      Brevity may be the soul of wit but is not always appropriate for other intentions.

      Green Eggs and Ham, while a classic masterpiece has a Lexile rating of 30. (College and career readiness material ratings are around 1300). Perhaps some people should simply bypass these articles and move on to those that are a bit more their speed.
      Political affiliation is irrelevant here, as I believe Kentucky and National politics to be corrupt from top to bottom and across the entire spectrum from left to right.

    2. Perhaps...

      Catmonkey should stop trying to be Hall Monitor of the comments section…

    3. BOOM!!

      CATandMONKEY with the mic drop!!! Bravo, sir.

    4. CATandMONKEY

      Simply replying to the shortsighted, agenda-driven comments that permeate every comment section following a Miller essay. Obviously, Jonathan pissed off a LOT of people during his political career and these comments are all indicative of such.
      As has been stated by me previously: I detest Pepsi but have never been so incensed as to write them stating so. I just don’t ever purchase Pepsi…ever.

    5. Ethan American

      Miller never pissed me off in politics. He bored me with bad writing on this site. If Matt didn’t have his own fantasy of being a politician, Miller would not have this gig.

    6. CATandMONKEY

      Ethan, fair enough. You are not the target of my comment. Might help to differentiate “bad writing” from ” “writing I don’t like.” There are hundreds of musical artists I despise, but occasionally have to admit that some of their songs are actually well crafted. Compared to some of the weak-ass stuff posted on KSR, I appreciate some- not all, of Miller’s perspectives and the manner he presents them. I guess one Grantland on the internet is enough. Maybe more than enough. Again, Peace.

    7. Perhaps...

      I still have no idea who Miller is. And don’t want to knowwho he is. My comment was that Catmonkey needs to get over himself. Or herself. People can dislike posts on here and say as much.

    8. CATandMONKEY

      Absolutely, Perhaps. We all may also choose to comment on your opinion.

    9. Captain Obvious

      “If Miller’s essays are too verbose, perhaps you are not the intended audience.” Thank you for making my point. I am the typical UK fan and KSR reader. I don’t want to read his crappy, boring posts.

    10. Watson

      ^ Then don’t. Keep scrolling. Easy.

  12. Why?

    Why is this guy writing for ksr? This is supposed to be a website about KENTUCKY SPORTS hence the name Kentucky Sports Radio. Don’t bring politics into it any more.

    1. uk-blue

      How can you say that with a straight face? Yes, it’s supposed to be about KENTUCKY sports, yet no one complains when Drew or anyone else writes an article dogging on Louisville or talks about Matt Jones attempt at a political career. Can’t have your cake and eat it too, sorry.

    2. Ha!

      Yup, uk-blue is a Louisville troll from Georgetown.

      #L1CWHORE
      #DealWithIt
      #LittleBrothel
      #HaveFunFindingANewCoach
      #EveryoneIsLaughingAtYou
      #UofSleaze

    3. uk-blue

      Can we have some logic with that accusation? Maybe a comment where I support Louisville, or state that I’m not from Lexington? I’m as dedicated of a UK fan as the next person, but just because I point out people being hypocritical I all of a sudden hate UK and support our rival?

    4. Why?

      uk-blue, did you not notice how I said, “Don’t bring politics into it any more.” That includes Matt Jones attempt at a political career. “Dogging” on UofL is part of Kentucky Sports. They are our biggest rival. If you think “dogging” on UofL isn’t part of Kentucky Sports you probably aren’t a UK fan.

  13. GetAClue

    Anyone who thinks that sports and politics have nothing
    to do with one another, and that they can be mutually
    exclusive, is an idiot. At best.

    1. DesignatedDrinker

      Yep. Politics is the biggest business in the country and finds its way into every other industry. Miller comes off as completely obnoxious and arrogant.

    2. Put down the bottle

      “Politics is the biggest business in the country”…?

    3. CATandMONKEY

      Politics is the biggest business in the country”…?
      Yup. For better or worse, EVERYTHING is political and that actually sucks.

    4. Put down the bottle

      Yep. Right down to the hate-filled comments section of KSR

  14. Man

    I read these comments, and it makes me ashamed of my fellow Kentuckians.

    Hey, thanks for ruining our image!!!

    1. Ethan American

      I read your comment, and it makes me ashamed of you (for staying true to the stereotype of a Kentuckian as an uneducated, one-toothed rube). I don’t know Miller the politician, but his writing is bloviated, ill-reasoned, and unfailingly moronic.
      Never trust any politician who feels the need to tell you how courageous he was in dropping out of a race he had no chance of winning, and that only his own arrogance caused him to enter to begin with.

    2. CATandMONKEY

      +1 for bloviated. No doubt anyone who enters the political arena has an oversized ego. You should have stopped at ” Never trust any politician.”

      I believe in Vonnegut’s classic ” Harrison Bergeron” the US president was randomly chosen from the phone book. A far better system than that which currently exists.
      Peace.

    3. Man

      No, Ethan, thats what I meant about fellow Kentuckians (uneducated, one-toothed rubes) who get furious over an article on KSR. Thanks for playing, though!!

  15. BBNBIGTIME

    Please be courageous, Jon. Please quit being an attention whore and quit filling up space on KSR. You are easily the most disliked person to have ever written for this site (and that’s saying something). No one even really reads what you write anymore; we just bypass the article and head straight to the comment section to communicate our displeasure with your existence here.

    1. Ethan American

      Ha, ha, ha, ha! To be honest, I almost ALWAYS skip his blogs, but thought this one might be different. It was the first one I have read in many, many months.
      Same result.
      Mr. Miller, please do the courageous thing, the thing that would be best for this site and its readers. Quit writing. Move on to something you might be able to do.

  16. Ray

    Jonathan, you sure are magnanimous. What a dick.

  17. BenHur

    How is it possible Pitino is still the coach? UL is now this cesspool of moral anarchy.

  18. Hate to tell you

    But Pitino isn’t a good person. He’s a talking, walking turd. He only cares about himself. Just like the author of this post.

  19. roundball fool

    Thanks for writing such a thoughtful piece, Jonathan. I’m not sure Vince Lombardi and Lloyd Bentsen have ever been mentioned in the same essay. If only you could have worked Yogi in somewhere…..

    I like it when KSR mixes it up a bit. Makes the site interesting.

  20. CATandMONKEY

    I’m such a ksr kissass. I’ll back any piece of drivel posted, here.

    1. Wow

      Calm down, troll.

    2. Tom B

      Wow is the troll. He likes kicking puppies and farting on old ladies

    3. CATandMONKEY

      You know you have made the big time when someone trolls your username. Love you, man. Kisses and perpetual love (in a manly way) to you. Now I can write home because I am someone!

    4. Hate to tell you

      That’s not trolling. It’s identity theft.

    5. CATandMONKEY

      HTTY, agreed but it was so poorly purloined that I doubt that my wife’s decision whether or not to be generous tonight shall be influenced by the impostor’s weak attempt. If someone wishes to steal an anonymous ID methinks their problems are far worse than mine.

  21. Bballdoc

    I think Jonathan’s essays are thoughtful and well written. KSR can use the diversity. There is more to sports journalism than rah rah rah.

    1. Ethan American

      Sadly, your comment says more about you than it says about Miller.

    2. Bballdoc

      And your six nasty replies in this thread say someone must have peed in your Wheaties tonight.

  22. uk-blue

    Awesome and well written article that shows thought actually being put into it. Obviously we all want Louisville to suffer tremendously from this (schadenfreude is alive and well), but its very refreshing for someone to step back and write an article that doesn’t show bias, but instead replaces it with grammar. That being said Louisville can implode and we would all be better off.

    1. Ethan American

      Grammar?!!! See my comments above. And you wonder why folks elsewhere consider us Kentuckians uneducated…

    2. uk-blue

      I should have phrased that better. Didn’t mean to imply his grammar was perfect, just better than the drunken posts we are used to seeing on the weekends.

  23. chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door

    Yawn.

  24. 8 god

    Hey morons, crisis management is LITERALLY HIS JOB.

    But no, let’s have more of Drew, Tyler and Matt speculating and making unfunny jokes about the subject! Because that’s shorter and doesn’t require us to confront well-thought-out viewpoints!

    The anti-intellectual venom of KSR followers never ceases to dumbfound me.

  25. Matt Joned

    Many people disagree about Loserville hookers, but they all agree about a need for a good night sleep. And that is where Wildcat Mattress comes in. This week only buy a king or a queen size mattress from Wildcat Mattress and get a brand new Toyota Tacoma from Hudson Nissan

  26. smyrna

    Great blurb.

    Now, can someone clean up where I upchucked all over the floor.

  27. Tony Montana

    I wish doom on Louisville as much as the next guy, but the degree of Pitino bashing, especially from KSR is overkill. I dont get it. I still respect the man and maybe I’m in the minority here…but hell this could have just as easily happened at UK. A coach cant see everything that happens.

    —-Reply: Oh but he was the coach so he’s responsible for bla bla bla….

    1. Larry Clapp

      This also could have happened at Cincinnati, or Tulane, or Miami, or wherever… but it didn’t. It happened at Louisville. And I’m going to continue to point my finger and laugh. After three sex scandals, they’ve earned it. 😉

  28. Bill

    I would like to see a poll on what is the greatest offense in the recent NCAA college athletics scandals?

    a. Fake classes at the University going on for decades until a former athlete decided to sue them for not providing them a proper education.
    b. Former players who have described the dorm they lived in was liked living in a strip club for years and free sex was unlimited.
    c. A highly acclaimed quarterback is suspended for the year for testing positive for PED.

    Keep in mind Lamar Odom is fighting for his life after consuming over the counter Viagra like herbs when visiting a legal brothel outside Las Vegas.

    The NCAA is supposed to be the Police and the moral authority when investigating complaints.
    I hope they make the right calls.

  29. Criswell

    “Do not use a twenty-dollar word when there’s a ten-center handy.” You would truly benefit from this piece of Strunk & White’s advice. Instead of belaboring your opening point, which was simple enough, to crowbar in “omerta code,” which refers to the Mafia’s code of silence and isn’t remotely applicable here, your writing would be much more effective if you cut down on the purple prose and just got to your point–except in this case because your point is “I ran for governor, it didn’t work, I bowed out like a champion. Oh, and Pitino should do that. He should be heroic like me.”

    So ends my weekly copy/developmental editing advice on my weekly visit to KSR.

  30. Shelby County

    One one hand, I’m unsure how posting unsigned criticism in the comment section of a sports blog alleviates one’s insecurities. On the other, I’m not the type of dude that types to dudes, so I’m Stevie Wonder to the whole thing.

    I enjoy JM’s work and appreciate the effort he contributes to the site. I make a point to read each one, if only to indulge in the prepubescent melt down that follows each post.

    1. Criswell

      “I’m not the type of dude who types to other dudes.”

      You’re the–literally–the only dude in this entire thread with a profile picture.

    2. Jason

      I agree.

    3. Shelby County

      Yeah that surprised me too. I think it picked up my email from when I used to write for the site? Either way you’re right, it’s not a great look.

  31. Johnny F. Faster

    Reading the comment section on KSR, H-l or any news article, makes me hate people.

  32. Ethan American prognosticate this

    Hi

  33. Johnathan Miller's Biggest Fan

    Yeah… I think he’s a tool, too.

  34. King Jeptha

    Very informative and thought-provoking, as usual. I followed along and agreed with you at the end. Jonathan you are right up there with Matt and MrsTT for why I love KSR.

  35. MustangCat

    Wow. What a pathetic self-glorifying piece of literary BS! The unmistakeable work of a “proud” democrat! And we thought they were an endangered species?! Who could use the words “Rick Pitino” and “quality human being” in the same sentence? A Democrat, that’s who. And you had to compliment both Biden and Boehner, for good measure. Why didn’t you call the both “great Americans” while you were at it?! Might as well talk about how much we need Clinton for President?! Guess some people want to see someone finish the destruction of America that Obama has so blessed us with. Democrats are either delusional, or demon-possessed, and I’m not sure which one applies?!
    Pitino doesn’t need to resign, and they don’t need to fire him.
    The longer all of this dumpster fire burns, the better for everyone BUT UL!
    How is that a bad thing?

  36. David Host

    Jonathan, I agree with the general theme of your article – that sacrificing a cherished goal or identity may become necessary due to events beyond a person’s control, and that in doing so, one can achieve a healthier and more balanced perspective; effectively “winning by losing.” Your contributions since leaving electoral politics certainly demonstrate the wisdom of your advice.

    Yet, I’m not sure that the Biden, Boehner, or Pitino situations share the same template. In becoming Vice President, Biden appeared to have given up on his presidential aspirations – and despite having reconsidered a 2016 campaign upon the urging of others, seemed all too relieved to once again foreclose that possibility. In Boehner’s case, I suspect that he has always banked on a lucrative lobbying practice following his retirement from Congress – and while I’m sure he never wanted to leave the speakership under pressure, the only long-term consequence is that he will start making a lot of money earlier.

    The central fact which distinguishes the Biden and Boehner situations from Pitino, however, is that neither Biden nor Boehner are exiting the stage under any cloud. Biden is being hailed as a statesman of the first order – and while Boehner may continue to endure a degree of ridicule in some right-wing circles, he may wear that scorn as a badge of honor moving forward (and the coverage he has received since his resignation shows that the media will reward him for having fallen on his proverbial sword).

    Pitino, however, faces a much different prospect. If he quits now, he freezes the current narrative in place. Perhaps if he were 10 ten years younger (i.e., Eddie Sutton’s age when he was forced out at UK), Pitino might be able to leave his U of L tenure behind and write a new chapter of his career, but I think the fact that he will be closing in on 65 after sitting out for a year precludes him from landing anywhere else; particularly since SMU is now paying the price for hiring an aging Larry Brown. He might be able to sign on as an NBA General Manager (a la Pat Riley), but his failure with the Celtics in such a capacity makes that possibility very unlikely.

    Remaining at U of L at least gives Pitino a chance (however slim) at repairing the damage before he retires. As UK fans, I think we ought to hope he does – because as matters stand, Pitino’s entire career will be tarnished, including his tenure at UK.