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Rick Pitino sues Louisville athletics for breach of contract

Rick Pitino took Louisville to three Final Fours and a national championship in 16 seasons. (Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press)
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Rick Pitino is asking for more than $35 million in a lawsuit filed Thursday against the University of Louisville Athletic Association. The former men’s basketball coach claimed his contract was breached when the school fired him in October, because it did not show legal “cause” in doing so.

In addition, Pitino’s suit claims Louisville committed another breach when it placed him on unpaid administrative leave in September, because it failed to provide proper notice when it “effectively fired him.” The suit, filed in a U.S. District Court in Kentucky, is seeking $4.3 million per year through June 2026, which is the remaining value of his contract.

Louisville moved swiftly — too swiftly, and without justification, according to Pitino — to remove the 65-year-old coach last month after the FBI and other law enforcement agencies announced the initial results of an ongoing investigation into corruption into college basketball. Ten men, including four assistant coaches and executives for Adidas, were arrested; although Pitino was not arrested or named in the criminal complaint, Louisville was implicated in a scheme to land a top recruit, Brian Bowen.

The lawsuit (via the Louisville Courier-Journal) denies any involvement by the coach in that episode, saying, “Coach Pitino had no part — active, passive or through willful ignorance — in the conspiracy described in the Complaint. Coach Pitino never has had any part — active, passive or through willful ignorance — in any effort, successful or unsuccessful, completed or abandoned, to pay any recruit, or any family member of a recruit, or anyone else on a recruit’s behalf, as an inducement to attend the University of Louisville.”

A Louisville spokesman told the Associated Press the school is aware of the lawsuit but, per its policy, won’t comment on pending litigation.

Pitino went 416-143 in 16 seasons at Louisville, winning a national title in 2013 and taking the Cardinals to three Final Fours. In June, the NCAA gave him what would have been a five-game suspension to start this season, citing a failure to monitor his program during a scandal involving escorts, players, recruits and an assistant coach that allegedly took place from 2010 to 2014.

Louisville included that scandal, which could cost the school its 2013 championship, in its summary of “just cause” for terminating Pitino’s contract, but his lawsuit asserts “the escort matter occurred during the operation of Coach Pitino’s prior contract, dated July 1, 2012, not the current one.”  It also states the FBI’s criminal complaint does not “credibly” provide “evidence of wrongdoing” on Pitino’s part.

Pitino told ESPN in October that he had passed a lie-detector test, saying he was asked these questions: “Did you have any knowledge of the Bowen family getting any money? Did you have any knowledge of an Adidas transaction?”

“I answered ‘absolutely not’ on both questions and passed the lie-detector test,” Pitino told the network’s Jay Bilas. “So I had no knowledge of any of this.”

Last month, the former coach sued Adidas, claiming the company “knew, or recklessly avoided knowing, that Coach Pitino’s reputation for honesty and integrity would be seriously damaged by the perception — even if unfounded — that he was involved with the illegal and wrongful payment of money to recruits, or on their behalf.” His lawsuit against Louisville asked that the school, in the event it is not found obligated to pay him his contract value, compensate Pitino for his “actual losses, including the value of his lost Adidas endorsement contract.”

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