John Clay

John Clay: Pitino's 15 seconds of shame will last a lifetime

University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, left, was escorted by Chris Francis of the U.S. Attorney's office into the federal courthouse in Louisville on Thursday.
University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, left, was escorted by Chris Francis of the U.S. Attorney's office into the federal courthouse in Louisville on Thursday. AP

LOUISVILLE — The basketball coach with one national championship and five Final Fours has had his reputation reduced to the butt of a joke.

Subject matter: Sex.

Punch line: 15 seconds.

Make up your own; everyone else has.

Rick Pitino returned to the witness stand in U.S. District Court on Thursday morning for three hours of cross-examination and redirect testimony in the extortion trial of Karen Cunagin Sypher.

The University of Louisville basketball coach more than held his own, forcefully denying the rape allegations made by Sypher's attorney, Jim Earhart. Pitino was often defiant and occasionally testy — "I don't think you understand (that it didn't happen) because you keep repeating it," he told Earhart, when the attorney kept using the word rape — but the coach never lost his cool.

In fact, he contributed the poignant moment of the fourth day of this trial, describing under redirect questioning from Assistant U.S. District Attorney Marisa Ford the pain it caused when he had to tell his wife and children the truth about his 2003 sexual liaison with Sypher.

After a pause to compose himself, and with emotion in his voice, Pitino relayed to the jury how the two years his son Richard Pitino was on his basketball staff at U of L were the most enjoyable years of his coaching life.

"And to suggest to him that in order to avoid the embarrassment and the humiliation he should move on to another job was very difficult," said the coach.

Indeed, as the Pitino-Sypher scandal was becoming public, Richard Pitino joined Billy Donovan's staff at Florida.

Thing was, despite Rick Pitino's performance Thursday, the damage was already done.

It was one thing for the coach to admit in a prepared 2009 statement that he had what he termed consensual sex with Sypher in a restaurant in Louisville; it was another to hear the coach in a public courtroom describe the intimate details of the encounter that night.

Duration: "No more than 15 seconds," testified Pitino.

In our punch-line times, you can only imagine where the Internet ran with that. (Christian Laettner's winning shot that beat Pitino and Kentucky with 2.1 seconds was a popular comic reference point.)

Pitino is far from the first coach to commit adultery, but he's one of the few who has had to admit to it in public, under oath.

People might remember titles and accomplishments, but it's the salacious that often sticks.

It's ironic that in the recent dust-up over John Calipari first scheduling then canceling a fund-raiser at his home for Gov. Steve Beshear, people recalled 1996, when Pitino was at Kentucky and he irked some by appearing onstage in Lexington with Bill Clinton when the 40th president was campaigning for re-election.

Here they are, linked again, 14 years later. Both are smart, talented men of major accomplishments whose reputations are tarnished by the public revelations of a sexual tryst with women other than their wives. Clinton has his Monica Lewinsky. Pitino has his Karen Sypher.

An impeachment survivor, Clinton continued through the end of his presidency. He's done good things since. He's carried on, but the stain — that infamous stain from Lewinsky's dress — is always along for the ride.

It will be the same for Pitino. He's a survivor, too, a great coach who can win titles, reach additional Final Fours. But some will never forget those 15 seconds.

Or allow Pitino to forget.

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