Louisville passes on fresh start in replacing Rick Pitino

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The extent of Louisville’s no-win basketball situation was laid bare Friday when the school introduced its interim head coach for the 2017-18 season.

He is David Padgett, a 32-year-old with no head-coaching experience and just five years as a full-time college assistant. Padgett is a likable man, was a laudable player and has been regarded as a rising star in the profession – and he showed great poise navigating a news conference fraught with peril here Friday. He certainly struck a better tone than interim president Gregory Postel, who declared it an “exciting announcement.”

Our reputation is in tatters. But, hey, we’re excited over here!

Under even remotely normal circumstances, Padgett would not be a candidate for the job he just got. And beyond his coaching résumé, the most risky aspect for Louisville is his close ties to the head coach who just left in disgrace, Rick Pitino. On Friday, Pitino released a statement to Yahoo Sports and six other outlets in which he continued to deny any knowledge of payments.

“… As I’ve previously stated, I had no knowledge of any payments to any recruit or their family. But I was the head coach and I will take ownership of my decisions,” Pitino said in the statement. “The University took the action they thought was necessary and I will do the same.”

Padgett played for Pitino and has worked under him in multiple capacities. He was on staff during the massive NCAA and legal debacles of recent years.

Oh, and there is this: Padgett’s agent during a brief professional career was Andy Miller. Last we heard about Miller, the FBI was raiding his office as part of the corruption investigation that nuked Pitino’s Hall of Fame career and has sent shock waves throughout college basketball this week.

(Padgett said Friday that he had Miller as his agent for the two years he played professionally, and the only relationship he has with him since then is an annual text he receives on his birthday.)

So not exactly a clean start from the atomic blast of sludge that has coated the Louisville program.

While the school is rushing to have a skeleton coaching staff in place with basketball practice starting nationwide, it is taking a simultaneous leap of faith – that there won’t be continued scandalous eruptions that involve the holdovers from the Pitino regime. Whatever anyone at Louisville says about due diligence concerning those retained, the 48 hours that passed since Pitino was forced out is nowhere near enough time to be sure of anything.

In fact, there is at least one major issue lingering, and it can be found on pages 21 and 22 of the U.S. Attorney’s release pertaining to the charges filed against Adidas executives James Gatto and Merl Code. That section pertains to the Louisville/Adidas scheme to pay recruits.

University of Louisville interim President Greg Postel, center, walks with David Padgett, right, to a press conference where it was announced that Padgett will be Louisville’s interim men’s basketball. (AP)

The report cites a July meeting and says, “(I)t would fall upon Coach-1 and another assistant at University-6 to steer the athletes to certain advisers.” University-6, as it may forever derisively be known, is Louisville. Coach-1 is a Louisville assistant – Jordan Fair, multiple sources have told Yahoo Sports. So, who is the other assistant referenced?

I asked Padgett after his introduction. Without referring directly to the words in the document, he said, “If there was speculation about any trouble I could get in, I wouldn’t be standing here right now.” Interim president Gregory Postel said the school is confident Padgett will not be implicated in the investigation.

The same cannot be said for Fair and fellow assistant Kenny Johnson. Postel said both men are still on the Louisville staff “for now,” but that their status is subject to change. It seems logical to expect both to be suspended, at the very least.

Fact is, there weren’t any great options for Louisville at this point. And at a time when even excellent and experienced leadership would struggle to find a decent solution, the university comes flailing into this one with an interim president, no athletic director and a controversially reconstituted board of trustees that was named by the governor less than eight months ago.

In promoting Padgett, the school has made a basketball decision instead of an overall university decision. That choice will only amplify the current cacophony of debate about priorities and messages and overall direction.

A complete break from the Pitino era would have been a basketball debacle, in terms of both timing and keeping the team together. Even the 2016 football chaos at Baylor was more manageable than this. When the school fired Art Briles and hired an interim from the outside, there was still two months to regroup and adjust before the start of August practice. Louisville was staring at two days.

Promoting Padgett is more along the lines of what Ohio State did with Luke Fickell after firing Jim Tressel amidst an NCAA investigation on Memorial Day 2011 – although, like Baylor, that time frame looks luxurious compared to what Louisville is up against here.

Players described by program insiders as “devastated” by the sudden departure of Pitino might have simply refused to play, or transferred en masse, if a complete outsider (say, Tom Crean) had been brought in to coach them. Worst-case scenario: a promising 2017-18 season, already severely compromised by the removal of a Hall of Fame coach and Louisville’s highest-rated recruit (Brian Bowen, suspended after being implicated in the federal probe) might literally have necessitated a call for campus walk-ons to field a team.

(It is, however, premature to play the sympathy card for the current Cardinals. The common refrain during a college athletic scandal is to say that the players are blameless victims, but given the revelations this week it strains belief to say that everyone on the Cardinals roster not named Brian Bowen came to Louisville without NCAA rules being broken along the way. We’ll see how that plays out.)

But in the larger picture, is trying to salvage this season worth the continued credibility hits to the school? Should Louisville be playing the short game here, or the longer one?

According to multiple sources, two of the men charged by the feds were in Louisville as recently as Sept. 16-17. AAU coach Brad Augustine and former/aspiring future agent Christian Dawkins, both arrested this week, accompanied a prospect identified by the feds as “Player-11” – sources tell Yahoo Sports that is 7-footer Balsa Koprivica, of Windemere (Florida) Academy and Augustine’s Adidas-backed AAU team, 1 Family. The federal complaint states that plans were being made in July to funnel $150,000 in Adidas money to ensure that Koprivica attended Louisville.

Koprivica, Augustine and Dawkins watched a Louisville basketball workout on Sept. 16, before the Cardinals played Clemson in football that night. Presuming David Padgett was at the basketball workout, the new coach of the Cards was sharing gym space with two men who would be arrested just 10 days later in part for their involvement with that very recruit.

Maybe Padgett had no idea what had transpired behind the scenes a couple of months earlier. But affording anyone from Rick Pitino’s staff a benefit of the doubt right now is a risky stance.