Mark Story

Louisville gets it wrong in first major decision of its basketball rebuild

David Padgett, right, posed for a photographer with his head coach, Rick Pitino, during the University of Louisville’s 2007-08 basketball media day.
David Padgett, right, posed for a photographer with his head coach, Rick Pitino, during the University of Louisville’s 2007-08 basketball media day. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Let’s stipulate up front that University of Louisville interim president Greg Postel is in an impossible situation with U of L’s scandal-tainted men’s basketball program with few good options.

Yet at a time of crisis when U of L needs to get every decision right, I fear it has whiffed on the first big one of its basketball rebuild.

Promoting Louisville assistant and former Cardinals center David Padgett to “acting head coach” is the wrong call for two reasons.

First, at a time when U of L needs to cut as many ties as possible with the scandalous Rick Pitino era, it has reinforced them. So what happens if in, say, two weeks something comes out that links Padgett to the scandal(s)?

Secondly, with Louisville facing a basketball season likely to be filled with herculean, off-the-court challenges, it needed a head coach of maturity and experience to help guide the Cardinals through.

Only 32, Padgett has never been a head coach.

Bellarmine head man Scott Davenport, a former U of L aide who has won the NCAA Division II national title at his present school plus a Kentucky high school state title (at Ballard in 1988 with Allan Houston) and who is well known and well liked in the city of Louisville, would have been a better choice.

What about ex-Cardinals guards Jerry Eaves, 58, and/or Butch Beard, 70, each of whom have prior college head coaching experience?

Why couldn’t Louisville work the ranks of ousted head coaches (looking at you Tom Crean, with your 3-1 record against Kentucky in NCAA Tournament games) or ex-coaches currently working as TV talking heads and make somebody a contract offer they couldn’t refuse?

People say Louisville’s situation is so dire it could not have gotten anyone, but my observation is you can usually find somebody to come make, say, $1.5 million for six months of work if you offer it.

I have sympathy for Postel, who is cast in the role of late 1980s University of Kentucky President David Roselle in having to clean up a basketball program run amok, but must do so as an interim office holder.

Postel had no idea when he woke up Tuesday morning that a federal sting operation would go public in which it would be revealed that the FBI had tape of a U of L men’s basketball assistant allegedly arranging for a six-figure payment to be made to the family of a recruit.

For a school whose men’s hoops program is already appealing NCAA punishment due to the infamous strippers/escorts for recruits scandal, it was the final tipping point.

The U of L interim president, a medical doctor by training, was right on Wednesday to begin the process of cleaning house by initiating the process that, presumably, will lead to the dismissals of Pitino and his patron, longtime U of L Athletics Director Tom Jurich.

The arguments for going with Padgett — who played center for Pitino at Louisville from 2005-08 after transferring from Kansas — is that the U of L players, no doubt shell-shocked by the events of this week, wanted him to be their coach.

His ascension also allows for on-the-court continuity in terms of systems.

By all accounts, Padgett is bright and personable. Maybe he will make something positive out of Louisville’s darkest hour.

Nevertheless, this choice reinforces U of L’s ties to the disgraced Pitino era.

In the most trying off-the-court climate imaginable, the inexperienced Padgett will be asked to hold Louisville basketball together while cutting his head coaching teeth against the Hall of Fame likes of Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, John Calipari and Jim Boeheim.

Louisville is playing a bad hand, but a veteran, mature head coach with Padgett staying for this year as an assistant to ensure continuity would have been U of L’s best play.

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