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Original Issue

Mission Implausible

Coaches caught up in scandal, like Rick Pitino of Louisville, preach leadership, but there's another way—rarely considered—to show it

"PLAUSIBLE DENIABILITY" for head coaches is all the rage in college sports—so much so that "plausible" is approaching implausibility. Or so it appears in the ongoing saga of the Louisville men's basketball program, still led for the moment by Rick Pitino. Last week evidence continued to mount in support of allegations by the owner of a local escort service, Katina Powell, that a former Pitino staff member, director of basketball operations Andre McGee, hired her to provide strippers who also offered sex acts to Pitino's players, recruits and some of the recruits' parents and guardians. The assignations are alleged to have taken place at 22 parties over a four-year span in the basketball dorm named after Pitino's late brother-in-law, Billy Minardi. The Cardinals' coach, whose brand is built around leadership and managerial competence and who lectures businessmen in best sellers entitled Lead to Succeed and Success Is a Choice, says he had no clue. In his resignation letter from his post as an assistant coach at Missouri--Kansas City last Friday, McGee wrote that allegations against him were "false."

Pitino is hardly the only big-time college coach who styles himself as General Patton, except when it's more expedient to come across as Sergeant Schultz. The species can be famously attentive to detail when it wants to be. There's that Big Ten basketball coach who briefly suspended a recent interview with SI so he could text birthday wishes to the girlfriend of one of his players. At several programs the boss and his minions have a tacit understanding: Practice whatever dark arts are necessary to procure and keep eligible the talent we need to win. Just don't tell me, so I can say I didn't know.

Still, on some level, they must know. Is Pitino such a fuddy-duddy that he is unaware of how recruiting visits unspool? Former Michigan star Jalen Rose helpfully clarified recruits' expectations last week: "As a 17-year-old kid," Rose said on his Grantland podcast Jalen & Jacoby, "first off, if I'm not getting laid ... I'm not signing."

Head coaches grumble about the NCAA's recent move to hold them accountable for the actions of their staff members. But Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and SMU's Larry Brown, recently hide-strapped for the misdeeds of subordinates, long ago used up their Get Out of Jail Free cards. Boeheim, who last March was suspended for nine games of the coming season and stripped of 108 wins due to an academic scandal that dated to 2001, skated in the early 1990s after the NCAA tied the Orange to a New York City street agent who had worked at Boeheim's basketball camp. Meanwhile the penalties slapped on SMU in September for academic fraud and unethical conduct, including a postseason ban for this season and a nine-game suspension for Brown, echoed previous NCAA sanctions against UCLA and Kansas for violations on Brown's watch at those institutions.

Pitino's contract includes a clause that exempts him from responsibility "for misconduct of third parties, assistants, or other representatives of the athletic interest" of the school, as long as he didn't know about the wrongdoing or promptly reported it. With Pitino vowing on his blog last week not to step down, the school—which is conducting its own review and has not commented on his job status—might have to buy out the remaining 11 years and $51 million of his contract unless it can get a favorable interpretation of another clause: that the coach "failed to exercise diligent, careful supervision."

But whether a coach who unknowingly presides over a corrupt program should be forgiven or fired is a false choice. What if, just once, one coach were to say, "It's my job to set a tone. I failed. So I hereby resign." To do so, a coach would need that one quality from which other good things flow, according to Chapter One of The One-Day Contract: How to Add Value to Every Minute of Your Life, the latest volume in the Pitino oeuvre. It would require humility.

"The lesson of humility comes to everyone eventually," Pitino writes. "Either you learn its value, or life drills it into you—and life can be a painful teacher."


Flip Saunders


Extra Mustard



Masked Marvel


Faces in the Crowd


Dan Patrick

Kevin Love


The Case for

No. 13




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