John Clay

John Clay: Pitino would be better served by silence

LOUISVILLE — If Rick Pitino is cracking under the pressure now, how's he going to handle it when the real shouting starts?

How's the Louisville basketball coach going to react when the creative student bodies across the college basketball landscape begin chanting "Ka-ren Sy-pher, Kar-en Sy-pher"?

What's he going to do when they display blown-up replicas of New York tabloid covers? Or when they throw unmentionables on the floor? Or when they combine their brains with their Sharpies to produce not-for-prime-time signs?

Will the petulant Pitino do what he did Wednesday, independently call an impromptu news conference to shamelessly invoke the name of the deceased Ted Kennedy and lecture the students, or in this case members of the media, on how to do their job?

Background: The Louisville police released tapes Wednesday of its interviews with Sypher in which the woman charged with extortion made her rape allegations, which the police found to lack credibility.

Television station WDRB Fox-41 in Louisville broke into its regular programming to air snippets of Sypher's sensational statements.

And Rick reacted with something less than the same discipline he demands from his players.

He bypassed the U of L sports information department and called a 3 p.m. news conference at the Yum! Center, sparking speculation the embattled coach might be stepping down from his job, or at least taking a leave of absence until the legal process had run its course.

Instead, we got the impulsive Rick Pitino and the competitive Rick Pitino all rolled into one seething six-minute segment.

Too bad we didn't get the smart Rick Pitino.

Yes, Sypher is the one on trial here. Yes, Sypher's rape claim has been deemed implausible. And yes, it is hypocritical for a television station to report charges in such an unusual way when the station itself deemed those same charges unworthy of broadcast just a few months before.

But Pitino isn't exactly innocent in this episode, and his standing as the most recognizable representative of a large public university does place him in the court of public opinion.

And, as Rick told Louisville fans to "turn the channel," it's the coach who needs to follow his own advice.

His Wednesday tantrum will serve only to return the burn of the national spotlight in his direction. (In this tennis match between Pitino/Sypher and Calipari/Memphis, the ball is now back in U of L's court.) It creates headlines where headlines didn't need to be created.

Hard as it may be, the best way for Pitino to deal with the Sypher situation is to ignore the Sypher situation. Let the authorities deal with it. Let the courts deal with it. If Pitino is really the victim here, reason will prevail, and the truth shall set him free.

Unfortunately, Rick isn't wired like that. He wants to coach every dribble, control every aspect. When matters spin beyond his control, maturity exits the stage.

The Wednesday Rick was the Rick who canceled the post-game senior celebration after UK lost the regular-season finale to South Carolina in 1997. It was the Rick who shook Dean Smith's hand and walked directly off the floor when the Cats lost to North Carolina in the 1995 NCAA Southeast Regional finals.

And by invoking Ted Kennedy's name, this was the same Rick who referenced 9/11 when he issued his original apology just two weeks ago.

But maybe now Rick has gotten it all off his chest. He's spoken his piece. He's made himself clear. "Enough is enough," he said, and maybe he'll practice what he preaches and move on to more important matters.

Because if the way Pitino lost his cool Wednesday is a sign of what the future holds, Louisville basketball is in for one nuclear winter.