Sidelines with John Clay

Give the players what they want: David Padgett a sensible choice for Louisville

As a player, Louisville center David Padgett listens to instructions from head coach Rick Pitino. Now an assitant coach at U of L, Padgett has been named interim coach for the 2017-18 season.
As a player, Louisville center David Padgett listens to instructions from head coach Rick Pitino. Now an assitant coach at U of L, Padgett has been named interim coach for the 2017-18 season. Associated Press

Yes, David Padgett was/is a member of the same staff led by Rick Pitino (on his way to being fired) and two unnamed assistant coaches (probably soon to be fired) implicated in Tuesday’s federal complaint that has shaken college basketball to its core.

So you can easily make the guilty-by-association argument. But in naming the 32-year-old Padgett as the team’s acting head coach on Friday, Louisville didn’t really have many other viable options.

Tom Crean? Reportedly the former Marquette and Indiana coach wasn’t interested in changing his take-a-year-off plans to take over the mess that has become U of L.

A retired coach from the outside? That sounds good and might be the best option, especially from an optics standpoint, but there isn’t an obvious candidate who fits that criteria. And given that Louisville is already appealing on probation with now a fresh scandal to endure, what ex-coach would want those headaches?

Scotty Davenport? Yes, the Bellarmine coach would have been a fine choice except for the fact Davenport was once an assistant under Pitino, plus he doesn’t have the relationships with the current Louisville players, as does Padgett.

And it is the players that matter now. They are the ones, through no fault of their own, who have started practice for the 2017-18 season without a head coach. They are the ones whose school and program have been turned upside down. They are the ones that will have to play out the season through turmoil, taunts, finger-pointing and embarrassing headlines. At every stop.

Back in 1988-89, while the NCAA was investigating the UK basketball program, I covered a couple of games on the road. Both were brutal. “Cheater” chants ruled the day. Most crowd comments hurled at players I couldn’t print. It wasn’t pretty.

By all accounts, Louisville’s players wanted Padgett, the former Kansas Jayhawk and Louisville Cardinal, who has been on Pitino’s staff since 2014. Given the circumstances, their preference should carry a heavy weight in the decision.

My counterpart at the Courier-Journal, Tim Sullivan, doesn’t agree with the choice. I get the logic behind Tim’s argument. And yes, after his collegiate career, Padgett was represented by Andy Miller, the agent whose office was raided and computer confiscated on Tuesday, the same day the U.S. attorney’s office in New York announced the arrest of 10 people, including four assistant coaches, on fraud and bribery charges.

Still, there are no reports any of that has anything to do with Padgett, who played overseas but never made an NBA roster. He was not a lead recruiter at Louisville under Pitino. And his new job title includes the “interim” tag. He’s not the permanent coach.

That doesn’t mean he’s clean or knew nothing of what was going on at U of L. Yet at this point in what promises to be a far-reaching scandal, can anyone say for sure that any coach, no matter the school, won’t wind up being tarnished in one way or the other?

That’s why the biggest mistake Louisville could make would be to rush into hiring a new “permanent” coach. No one knows where this FBI investigation ends up. All we know is that it is ongoing and the feds are playing for keeps, using wiretaps, video surveillance, secret recordings, subpoenas, just about everything in their investigative arsenal.

Why hire a new coach, proclaim a new day and new start, only to find out that coach has dirty hands, as well? It’s way too soon to take that chance.

If you’re Louisville, let the season play out as best it can. Cross your fingers there will not be other bombshells and the games themselves go better than expected. Root for the players, cooperate with investigators, continue with the clean up, and plan for better days.

If the players wanted David Padgett as their interim coach, that’s good enough for now.

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