Kentucky Coaches behaving badly

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 28, 2009 

Back in the day, this is the way we evaluated our college basketball coaches in Kentucky:

Rupp: Six Final Fours.

Crum: Six Final Fours.

Pitino: Five Final Fours.

Now, in Kentucky's summer of Coaches Gone Wild, here is the new working tally:

Gillispie: Three Alcohol- Related Traffic Arrests.

Calipari: Two Vacated Final Fours.

Pitino: One salacious sex scandal.

In most college sports states, they worry about the players getting in trouble. Here, it's the coaches who need baby sitters.

For our bad-boy college hoops coaches, what a 16 days it has been.

There have been tales of sex:

Aug. 11: Police release a report in which Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, while denying a rape allegation, acknowledges having consensual sex in 2003 on a table in a restaurant with a woman he had only just met — and who, therefore, was not Mrs. Pitino.

He also admits to subsequently paying the woman $3,000 that was allegedly linked to an abortion after she told the coach she was carrying his baby.

There has been rule-breaking:

Aug. 20: The NCAA announces that the 2008 Memphis team coached by current Kentucky head man John Calipari was being forced to vacate its national title game appearance due to rules violations — none of which implicated Calipari by name — involving the team's star player.

Coupled with a vacated Final Four at Massachusetts in 1996, it makes the over-achieving Cal the first coach in NCAA history to have trips to the national semifinals stricken from the records at two different schools.

There have been allegations of boozing:

Aug. 27: In the wee hours of the morn (2:47 a.m.), Billy Gillispie is arrested in Anderson County and charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol.

The arresting officer says Gillispie was so impaired that he had to lean against the door of his Mercedes Benz to stand.

For the just-deposed Kentucky head man, it is the third alcohol-related traffic interaction he's had with police since 1999.

There, ladies and gentlemen, are three of the last four men to hold the job of head men's basketball coach at UK.

College coaches: Molders of young men.

The name missing from that list, Tubby Smith, was a law-abiding, NCAA-rules-following class act who won 76 percent of his games and a national title.

No wonder we couldn't wait to get that guy out of here.

Of course, yuks aside, there is a human cost to what is happening to the highly paid mercenaries we hire to fight Kentucky's basketball battles that is sad to watch.

From the flaying Calipari took in the national media last week after the Memphis NCAA penalties were announced, it is apparent that his professional reputation — at least in the realm of running honorable programs — is in shreds.

Pitino's angry rant against the media Wednesday looked like a man cracking under the strain of scandal. There are few people I've ever encountered who are less-suited by temperament for being the butt of nationwide mockery than Pitino.

Yet with the extortion trial of his former lover Karen Sypher still ahead, a winter of that is exactly what Pitino has ahead.

I'll say this again: For the sake of his family and his own mental health, Pitino would be better off getting out of the limelight for a time, be it through resignation or a yearlong leave of absence.

Gillispie's abrupt dismissal as UK head coach after only two years had to have planted doubts in the minds of future employers.

Now the wide circulation of that horrid mug shot following his arrest might make it all but impossible for athletics directors at schools like Texas Tech or Houston (to name two spots much speculated upon) to hire him.

In the meantime, it's amazing how many millions we are paying basketball coaches to make Kentucky the nation's sports punch line.

"It's all a little embarrassing," said Joe B. Hall, the former UK coach. "But you have to say, we sure are getting publicity."

Contrary to the axiom, not all publicity is good publicity.

Still, in our year of coaches behaving badly, we really should do something special for this winter's Kentucky-Louisville game.

Maybe we can invite Mark Sanford to throw up the ball for the opening tip. Maybe we can request Jerry Springer to do play-by-play. Maybe Bernie Madoff can get a weekend furlough and keep the score book.

Sad but true, they'd feel right at home.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or at mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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