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Rick Pitino’s legacy for Kentucky fans a complicated matter

How will I remember Rick Pitino? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself all afternoon.

I know what you’re thinking. Tyler, you work for KSR. Shut up, you’re ecstatic. You all make a living off making fun of Rick. You’re dancing on his grave. And yes, while it’s true that in many ways, my livelihood is tied to Pitino and Louisville’s MANY scandals, shortcomings, and general mockability, I thought this would feel better. I thought I would be happier. But I’m not. And sadly, I think I know why.

Pitino’s demise means I have to process how I truly feel about the man, and, underneath all the jokes, that is a complicated matter. Growing up, he was a god. He brought Kentucky back from the dead and became so beloved that people snuck into his yard and collected grass clippings to frame and hang on their wall. The reason the 1992 loss to Duke hurt so much is how far we had come; Christian Laettner’s shot was like a heart stomp to show us we were still alive. The 90s were absolute glory years, and I have all the cheesy t-shirts — always purchased at a stand on the side of Man O’War — to prove it. For a preteen tomboy like myself, life didn’t get better than Kentucky’s run in 96-97-98. Camelot was a very real thing, and while it was heartbreaking when Pitino left for Boston, you were able to deal with it because he was going to the NBA. It was the next level, after all. The Celtics, nonetheless.

Fast forward a few years to Pitino’s return in 2001. For Kentucky fans, it was one of those, “you’ll never forget where you were” days. Coincidentally, I was in Louisville at a high school journalism conference at the Galt House. To be quite honest, the sting from hearing that news for the first time has never really gone away. Pitino choosing to return to college basketball as the head coach of our archrival didn’t feel like a coincidence; it felt like the worst kind of betrayal. Outsiders can go on all they want about how he had the right to take whichever job he liked (duh), and maybe he just loved the state of Kentucky so much he wanted to come back in some way (ha!), but that single act cemented how most of the fanbase would feel about him for life. A traitor. Benadict-ino. All of the malice Kentucky fans have had for Pitino in the past 16 years goes back to that very moment.

For me, those feelings festered over the years until John Calipari came and, like Pitino, brought Kentucky back to life. Like Pitino, he had that unique kind of swagger required for the job; however, Cal was even better at it. While Rick held the fanbase at arms length so they wouldn’t mess up his clothes, Cal went in for a full bear hug, feeding and nurturing a wounded Big Blue Nation back to terrifying health. Not only was Cal winning big, he was beating the snot of out Pitino while he was doing it, which was music to all of our ears.

Even better, Pitino himself began to crumble. The Karen Sypher scandal in 2009 seemed almost too ridiculous to believe — which, in retrospect, has become a familiar refrain with Pitino. He had sex with a woman in a restaurant? On a table? He did it down his leg? In only 15 seconds?! The hurt that had morphed into resentment once again morphed into mockery and it snowballed with each win, scandal, and stupid slogan that came out of Louisville. As the Calipari/Pitino rivalry grew — and boy, did it — Pitino became a caricature to Kentucky fans. Can’t beat Cal! Looks like a corpse! Did it on a table with Karen Sypher! 

Pitino leading the Cards to a (now defunct) National Championship the same year Cal and the Cats went to the NIT was a minor blip on the radar; the chance for Cal’s doubters to stand up and finally say the things they’ve been wanting to since he came on board. Thankfully, the world righted itself the next March when Kentucky beat Louisville in the Sweet 16, as sweet a victory as these eyes have seen.

A year later, the sex scandal broke and Pitino’s House of Cards began to tumble down around him. The jokes got easier. The traffic got crazier. Pitino became a villain from a bad 90s movie, furtively denying any wrongdoing as the room around him went up in flames. Only the hardcore Louisville fans bothered to defend him anymore because, really, how do you defend hookers in the dorm? You just can’t.

And now, we’re here. Pitino is the first domino to fall in the FBI’s probe into bribery in college basketball, and when you think about it, it’s laughably pathetic. Shoe companies interfering in college basketball has been going on for decades, and of course Pitino is the first to take the fall. He’s the most scandalous scoundrel who ever scoudreled. And of course he’s denying it all. He’s gotta get a check, after all.

So, why don’t I feel better? The day we’ve been waiting for is finally here. It’s Christmas morning 16 years in the making, but instead of feeling glee, I just feel kind of empty. Honestly, the video of Pitino walking out of the President’s office was what threw me into this funk. The man I’ve watched roam the sidelines — both home and away — was reduced to one last smirk, one final exit stage right, his shoulders slumped.

Pitino is a great coach; there’s no denying that. But he is also a proven liar and a master manipulator. Objectively, he is reaping what he is sowing. But for Kentucky fans, he’s also the ex, specifically the one that keeps messing up but you find yourself still checking on. You tell yourself it’s to feel better about how far you’ve come, but really, you look back because there was something there once, and it will always kind of hurt.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

42 Comments for Rick Pitino’s legacy for Kentucky fans a complicated matter

  1. JC3
    8:03 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    Tyler, What is going on with Alabama Basketball tonight. Lots of chatter? Thank you.

    • Angelo
      1:27 am September 28, 2017 Permalink

      Those kids and their families deserved the money. The criminals are the NCAA… Trump should pardon the assistant coaches. College athletes have been paid at least since WWII…

    • UK Big Board Update
      12:14 pm September 28, 2017 Permalink

      Angelo is crumbling…. 😂😂😂

  2. JC3
    8:07 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    Mrs. Tyler. Never mind. I found out. Thanks.

  3. ScoggDog
    8:09 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    Really ? You’re “processing” ?

    The dude was a prick when he was in Lexington … but he was “our” prick … so we let it slide. Because we were grateful for the wins.

    That’s all there is to it.

  4. kygolfkat51
    8:10 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    Rick was great for UK. You have to feel bad for him

    • IAmTheDanger
      8:47 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

      I do think Rick was the perfect coach for UK during the time he was here. I don’t believe there was any other coach in the country that could have come in and injected the excitement and hope back into UK basketball as fast as he did. His defense and his full court press confused and completely demoralized a lot of teams and we scored points in bunches in transition. I am one of the few that was not mad at Pitino for leaving UK for the Celtics, it made perfect sense to me. In regard to his time at Louisville, I think we all know how we feel about that. I do believe we got the best part of Pitino at the time he was at UK and you have to admit, he did rebuild the Roman Empire of college basketball in short order. I remember one of his quotes at his 1st press conference after agreeing to be the coach….he said if you have season tickets, hold onto them because the will become the most valuable possession you will have….he did fulfill that promise.

    • MyFriendsBrotherInLawKnowsMattJones
      10:14 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

      Love Breaking Bad!!

    • IAmTheDanger
      10:34 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

      LOL, Geat show!!

    • ClutchCargo
      8:42 am September 28, 2017 Permalink

      Pitino and UK were great for each other. He left and did what he needed to do and that’s fine. But I don’t feel bad for a grown-ass man who caused 99.9% of his own problems and accepts responsibility for none of it. The extreme arrogance that made him such a great fit to tame the UK fanbase and rebuild two great programs is what ended up being his downfall.

  5. ScoggDog
    8:22 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    Well … I’m checking … turns out NO – I do not have to feel bad for him.

    So I don’t.

  6. Kevin C
    8:23 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    It’s not complicated for me at all. As soon as left for Boston, and we realized he’d blatantly lied to media, fans, players, etc….multiple times, including just a couple days prior…I lost all respect for him. Nothing he’s said and done since has improved my feelings about him.

  7. dale-in-orlando
    8:37 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    Great post Tyler. My love of Kentucky basketball really began in 95-96. I was in Lexington for the championship game in 1996. I’m conflicted about how to feel about Rick. Whether or we want to admit it or not, we want every team to play the way that his teams played in the early 90s. We want the 3s and we want the pressure defense. It was so much fun to see those teams played. We never liked Tubby’s teams because they didn’t play like that. The first half of this year was so awesome until the UCLA game. It felt like a Rick Pitino team. We were running. We were hitting threes. We were playing great defense. How do we separate those team from Rick Pitino? This is a hard question and I am not sure if you really can.

    I might be in the minority, but I would really like to hear what other people have to say about this. I never faulted Rick for coming back to coach at Louisville. I think Rick loved being in Kentucky. He owned this state and this was were he had his greatest accomplishments. I really think that he wanted to come back home and the job at Louisville was the only option. If Mitch would have given him the chance to coach here after Tubby left or after Billy G left, would he have done it? Would have we accepted him with open arms? I would love to call into the show tomorrow to find out what Matt thinks but I don’t have time.

    It is really hard for me to separate UK from Pitino in the the early 90s. He brought us a lot of happy memories.

    • IAmTheDanger
      8:59 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

      Nicely done Dale and I agree with everything you said and you bring up some great things to continue.

  8. Luether
    8:39 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    I’ll forever be grateful for the job Rick did in resurrecting our program from the dead. He was simply brilliant during that time.

    I just can’t identify with the judgmental animosity and hate that others have towards him. None of us are perfect…

    • UK Big Board Update
      9:06 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink



      His only takes in the wake of Louisville’s disgraceful downfall

      Luether September 26, 2017 at 7:30 pm | Permalink | Reply
      Like It (0)
      This story is also about greedy Democrat parents pimping out their son’s to the highest bidder…

      Luether September 26, 2017 at 7:17 pm | Permalink | Reply
      Like It (0)
      If the NCAA didn’t even wrist slap North Carolina, why should U of L get the death penalty?

      Luether September 27, 2017 at 5:41 pm | Permalink | Reply
      Like It (0)
      Hope none of the investigation blows back on Cal or Ky assistants…

      Luether September 27, 2017 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      Innocent until proven guilty…

      Luether September 27, 2017 at 5:43 pm | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      Stay classy, Katina…


      Some recent takes on UK basketball

      Luether July 8, 2017 at 5:46 pm | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      And point guard Green is way overrated — a big letdown to what we’ve had over the past 2 years…

      Luether August 26, 2016 at 10:06 pm | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      Just hope the hype around Bam turns out better than Skal’s did last year…


      On Brad Calipari’s tattoo:

      Luether December 12, 2016 at 7:37 pm | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      Just a punk move by Cal Jr…


      And here’s him gushing over his crush (note the dates)

      Luether November 20, 2016 at 9:41 pm | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      Lamar Jackson is Superman…

      Luether December 12, 2016 at 7:40 pm | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      Lamar Jackson is Superman…

      Luether December 7, 2016 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      Lamar Jackson is Superman…

      Luether January 12, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      Lamar Jackson is Superman…

      Luether November 25, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      Lamar Jackson is Superman…

      Luether September 12, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      Lamar Jackson is Superman…

      Luether February 2, 2017 at 7:38 pm | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      YGBK. Lamar Jackson is Superman…

      Luether September 17, 2017 at 10:22 pm | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      Am proud of Stephen Johnson, but Lamar Jackson is Superman…

      Luether December 15, 2016 at 1:08 am | Permalink
      Like It (0)
      Lamar Jackson is Superman and the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner…

    • Jester
      7:29 am September 28, 2017 Permalink

      Turns out UK Big Board Update is the only one keeping score at home. In a “creepy stalker with bodies in the crawl space” kind of way.

    • UK Big Board Update
      12:19 pm September 28, 2017 Permalink

      So you claim to hate Louisville and it’s fans, and then attack me for calling a known UL troll out? You Trumpsters are so predictable. 😂😂😂

    • UK Big Board Update
      5:50 pm September 28, 2017 Permalink

      I guess you and Luether have that in common… 😉

    • AmazzzingLarry
      10:24 pm September 28, 2017 Permalink

      Go back to Loserville, troll.

  9. runningunnin.454
    8:48 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    Good article;
    adjective; bittersweet.

    • Ridge Runner
      8:55 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink


  10. thelexcat
    8:50 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    Don’t feel sorry for Rick Pitino.
    He coached 8 years longer and made probably 20-30 million more dollars than he deserved. Should have been fired for the Sypher ordeal like any other coach would have. His BFF Jurich made sure of that and tricked all the gullible Louisville fans/media/city into thinking they were the gold standard of college basketball.
    If the shoe were on the other foot Louisville fans would be letting us have it (they still do from something that happened 30 years ago).

  11. MAYS24
    9:26 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    I appreciate Pitino showing up to help resurrect the program. I loved his style of play. Thank you for Jamal Mashburn and the Unforgettables! How stupid could you be not using 2 6’9 players on the bench to prevent the Laetner miracle? Not using Anderson in 1997 Finals was all about making yourself look good and nothing else. Thank you for the players that won the 1998 title!
    Pitino has always been an excellent coach! I made my decision on Pitino as a person from his first book. The conceit throughout was sickening. It was like he thought he was God and could guide everyone else! He made his Assistant Coaches play pick-up basketball with him regularly. That was my first hint of his abuse of power. One of the worst parts was an “obese” employee in the office that Pitino bragged about forcing the man to control his weight or lose his job. It was none of his business and a huge abuse of power. He described it and meant for it to be interpreted as a perfect role model forcing some poor employee with poor willpower to make himself a better person. He was so into himself and felt himself so very perfect. There was no luck in his success but only hard work, perfect morals, and perfect decisions!
    Pitino was the first Kentucky coach I did not like for personal reasons. If I knew more about Billy G I would not have liked him. I could not question his coaching moves because it was his family and his life. Most coaches are money whores and that is the way capitalism works. The only thing to say is he is not part of the Glory Road at Kentucky with that kind of loyalty. Rupp, Hall, Sutton, Smith and Calipari earned and kept their membership in BBN and the Glory Road. Pitino lost his membership and was nothing more than a paid mercenary that was successful.
    I am happy Pitino was fired because of his morality, arrogance, and hypocrisy. I do not feel sorry for him because he is rolling in millions. He is set for his lifetime and his kids lifetime if none of them work a day in their lives! I hold no further animosity for him because we are all sinners. I hope he can find Jesus, repent and earn his way to everlasting life. I feel sorry for the innocent players and more for the innocent fans. Fans just like me that derive so much happiness following these young men. It is so unfair to them. I remember suffering through probation and I had done nothing wrong. Jesus is all about forgiveness. I forgive Rick and wish a better future for him!
    I feel for the poor Good Louisville fans that love their team like I do mine. Louisville has been a good rival and the best of Little Brother to us!

  12. pancakesfordinner
    9:42 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    I never hated Louisville until Pitino went there. When he left for the pros, it hurt, but it was what he thought was best. When that didn’t work out, he could have gone almost anywhere in the country. Rick chose to stick a dagger in the back of every UK fan and go to an instate rival. I never blamed Jurich for hiring him, he’s a great coach. Rick should have never taken the job in the first place. When Tubby left for another job, fans wished him well. Rick could have gone anywhere in the country and we wouldn’t have cared. But he chose to screw UK over and go to their rival. I take great joy in the fact that they took a guy who was willing to do that, and are now shocked that he turned out to not be good for the program.

    I don’t really think I’ll mind Louisville much anymore. They’re an in state school that has a better football program. We play them once a year, and they have officially cemented themselves as little brother.

  13. Cletis75
    10:14 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    Can’t lie, when he accepted the job at UL,my heart hardened toward him. I am forever grateful for what he did in bringing us back, but that didn’t give him the right to turn on the people who loved him. That was always who Rick was/is though. It was always about Rick. The players have always been the face of UK, and I think he needed somewhere no one would ever question anything he did. Somewhere he could be the face of the program and it would be all about him. He would never put the players first like Cal has. He always puts his interests before the teams. I guess I should be thankful that he took our money and did the job of rebuilding our program, while taking Louisville’s money and damn near destroyed theirs. Feel bad for their fans though, because he liked to their faces just like he did ours, and they believed him just like we did. Lucky for us, CM Newton put in a staff to make sure the Eddie Sutton debacle would be hard to be replicated by another coach. Jurich let him run free, unsupervised only looking at the dollar signs. With supervision he could have been one of the greats, but now he is a victim of his own arrogance. I hate to see some of my Louisville friends paying for his me me me attitude.

  14. Rabbi Li
    11:06 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    The only question we should be pondering:

    Does the Pitino banner continue to hang in Rupp Arena?


    • ClutchCargo
      8:48 am September 28, 2017 Permalink

      Well, he did bring the UK basketball program back to greatness and destroyed U-6’s. So, yeah. LOL!

    • EdC
      9:57 am September 28, 2017 Permalink

      Easy yes for me.

  15. catlaska
    11:35 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    Whoa. That was intense. Thanks Tyler. I worshiped the ground he walked on. Didn’t like the defection to the enemy, but stomached it. Forgave the Sypher scandal. The strippers and prostitutes with unwitting 16 and 17 year olds was my undoing. Not sure where he went off the rails. Jurich and UL’s desperation for relevance play a role.

  16. Basteballer
    11:58 pm September 27, 2017 Permalink

    Loved him at UK. Despised him when he went to UL. His descent into madness further sealed that deal. I’m not conflicted. He deserves it.

  17. blueballs80
    12:24 am September 28, 2017 Permalink

    It’s not a complicated matter. It’s called lack of institutional control and it starts with Jurich and trickles down to Pitino. UL’s arrogance cost them and yea good luck suckas.

  18. Kat4Life
    7:03 am September 28, 2017 Permalink

    I harbor no ill will towards rick Pitino. Those of us that were around to remember what he did for our program in the early 90s will always appreciate the resurgence of pride he brought back. This is nothing to gloat over, this is a sad day for college basketball and it particularly sad day for college basketball in the state of Kentucky.

    • ClutchCargo
      8:56 am September 28, 2017 Permalink

      I was a student at UK when he took over as coach, and he deserves credit for the great job he did. Just like he now deserves the smackdown he is getting. But let’s not pretend that he started from scratch at UK and built an empire from the ground up. The fanbase, facilities and history were always there. It just took someone with his personality and drive to bring it back so quickly.

  19. Jester
    7:32 am September 28, 2017 Permalink

    Those of you struggling with how you feel about his predicament are what we call “gullible” and “naive.” Of course the writer being a female is going to be a little more emotional about it, that’s to be expected.

    He got what he deserved. He’s just damn lucky he survived the scandal involving the whores.

    I personally am excited to tap dance on the grave of his coaching career.

    Eff you Lousiville. Eff you Lousiville fans. You deserve this.

  20. Jester
    7:37 am September 28, 2017 Permalink

    It’s not complicated at all for any true Cats fan. Quit trying to make it more than what it is.

  21. Options are Factual
    7:52 am September 28, 2017 Permalink

    Thank you Tyler for a balanced portrayal of the man who would be king then “crumbled” just as you said.

  22. Suffering Fools
    8:31 am September 28, 2017 Permalink

    Although I appreciated everything he did for UK’s program, I must admit I never liked the man even while he was here. Something to do with the way he flew his wife back to New York to give birth because he didn’t want any of his kids born in Kentucky. That didn’t sit well.

  23. sincitycat
    4:42 pm September 28, 2017 Permalink

    Great post Mrs. T. Like the Rolling Stones song I have “Mixed Emotions”. For some reason I am not giddy about this although I am happy for my brother/sister Wildcat fans who put up with the stuff from Cardinal fans. I would be popping the champagne corks, however, if it had been UNC or Duke. Next up in the rafters: Keith Bogans, Tay Prince and Sandy Bell.

  24. Kat4Life
    5:22 pm September 28, 2017 Permalink

    Agree with going after UNC. They are overdue.

  25. AmazzzingLarry
    10:41 pm September 28, 2017 Permalink

    No, there is nothing complex about it. What he did at UK was amazing, and he spent his time at Louisville trying to recreate that Camelot. In pursuit of this ambition, he sold his soul to get back to the mountaintop at UofL. Don’t pity him.

  26. Ruppstartedit
    8:52 am September 29, 2017 Permalink

    Contrasting styles of play of Coach Cal and RP: RP’s was flood the court with depth and keep ahead of the other team in steals etc. and and the 3 pt shot. He could take a couple great players and surround them with ordinaries who could play tough D. Rememeber when Cal first came to UK many fans wanted the pressing style and his response was he wanted the best players on the court at all times. Also, the pressing style wore out your team too. RP brought excitement. Bill Keightly said that was the most fun he had ever had. The NCAA obviously can’t deal with lawyered up programs but the FBI can. This is a momentous time in college basketball. Now let em hit Duke.