LOUISVILLE — Here, an indescribable week ended in outright eccentricity.
The first weirdness came just before 5 p.m. when, just as the University of Louisville prepared to introduce Rick Pitino’s interim successor as head men’s basketball coach, Pitino, ousted Wednesday along with Athletic Director Tom Jurich, issued a statement:
“There’s been a lot of turmoil the last few days and I’ve intentionally avoided making any public statements — primarily because so few facts are known. But I wish to make a few now.
First, I want to thank all my players from Providence, UK (Kentucky) and Louisville. Your support means more to me than I can possibly express.
Second, to the many friends and fans who reached out to me in the last few days: I owe a thousand thanks and an apology for the disappointment you must have.
Third, as I’ve previously stated, I had no knowledge of any payments to any recruit or their family. But I was the head coach and I will take ownership of my decisions. The University took the action they thought was necessary and I will do the same.
Finally, Tom Jurich is the best athletic director in the country, and thanks to him I coached Louisville basketball for over sixteen years when we witnessed many great things. From conference (sic) USA, AAC, Big East and now the ACC. I am proud of our many accomplishments and appreciate the continued support of the Louisville community. Again, a thousand thanks.
(Note: The size of that support might be questionable in a city weary of Pitino’s serial dramas.)
Next, further weirdness came in steady wavelets for the next hour, beginning when interim president and former radiology chair Gregory Postel, his university and its former head coach implicated and roiled by the 28-page federal report alleging bribery and other indignities in college basketball recruiting, manned the lectern and said he had “a very exciting announcement to make.”
It sounded like it could have been a further advancement in MRI exam technology.
He also said, “Basketball season is upon us; it’s hard to believe.”
It sounded like a possible double entendre.
Postel named David Padgett, the 6-foot-11, former Louisville center and Pitino director of basketball operations (2014-16) and full-on assistant (2016-Thursday), as “acting head men’s basketball coach.” In describing Padgett, Postel even said, “I might add he was one of the best passing big men the University of Louisville has ever seen.”
It sounded like some banality hurled from some former universe.
Padgett took the lectern at age 32, in both his new job and an improbable, impossible situation. He handled himself commendably even as he said he’s a “West Coast guy” from Nevada, which doesn’t have coastline yet, even as doomsayers have forecast it might someday.
He said, “It’s been a dark week at the University of Louisville,” and, “We’ll get through it,” and, “Me doing this is for them (the players),” and, “I’m not auditioning for a long-term job here.” He told a story of how the players were, to his amazement, working out hard Wednesday at 3 p.m., just after the ousters. He drifted toward absurdity only once, when he said, “It’s a unique group, probably the most unique group I’ve ever been around, and I honestly could say I’m not sure if any other group of players would have been able to get through what we’ve had to go through the last 72 hours.”
He called it “a very fluid situation.” He had no idea when he might hire assistants, or which assistants he might hire. He fielded the eternal question, “Do you have to cheat to try to get players?”
“No, you don’t,” he said.
Later, over to one side, there came more things nobody could have imagined even Tuesday morning.
A reporter asked Postel if Louisville’s $160 million contract from Adidas constituted “dirty money,” and Postel said, on his way out the door, “We don’t know yet.”
Back across the room, Padgett said he met with the players, who had backed him for the role, whereupon, “I’m 30 seconds into speaking, and all of a sudden I look over and Deng Adel has the most confused look on his face, and he raises his hand and goes, ‘Wait, are you the coach?’ ” Asked how he might reassure fans he won’t turn up on any evidence of subterfuge, Padgett said, “Look, all I can say is if Dr. Postel had any concerns about that whatsoever, I don’t feel like I would be standing here.”
More weirdness: He reminded that “someone,” meaning the investigators, “might need to talk to me at some point.” As to whether he would be the only coach when practice opens Sunday, he said, “That’s something I’m trying to figure out.” Asked whether there could be any happiness about his promotion, he said, “There’s happiness from the standpoint of we know now. … I wish it was under different circumstances.”
And asked if he felt comfortable moving into the office of his college coach and coaching mentor, Pitino, Padgett said, “I don’t know if I’m going to yet. That scares me. And, as you guys know, they changed the locks the other day so nobody can get in there right now anyway.”
It seemed the week could end fittingly right there.