Longtime Louisville coach Rick Pitino has been placed on unpaid administrative leave after his basketball program is federally accused of bribing at least two recruits to commit to the school.
The penalty was announced September 27 by Louisville President Greg Postel, who said Pitino’s future will be decided at an upcoming board meeting in October.
One day before the announcement, federal investigators in New York City announced charges against 10 men who are accused of bribing the families of college recruits with hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for a college commitment. The stunning revelations came Tuesday, and Louisville announced hours after that it received notification that it’s under investigation.
While Louisville wasn’t specifically named in the federal indictment, the description in the court documents line up with the university. The Department of Justice alleges that several officials from the program worked with the school’s apparel sponsor, Adidas, to give $100,000 to the family of an unnamed recruit. That recruit appears to be McDonald’s All-American Brian Bowen.
According to the court documents, Louisville officials were also working with an executive from Adidas, Jim Gatto, to secure a payment for a future unnamed recruit who will graduate high school next year. In addition, the officials allegedly made sure to be cautious in a meeting that was secretly recorded by the F.B.I. One school official noted that Louisville was on probation so they had to “be very low key” with the payment.
Pitino’s maintained that he knew nothing of the federal allegations and the alleged bribery of top-tier recruits to the school.
“These allegations come as a complete shock to me,” Pitino said in a statement. “If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville.”
Pitino has coached Louisville since 2001, and it’s become a bit of a family affair over the years. His family members have been a firm part of the program since he started and have been along for the ride.
Here’s what you need to know about Pitino’s family:
1. Pitino Has Been Married to His Wife Since 1976 Despite Trying Times
Pitino has been married to the former Joanne Minardi for over 40 years, and the couple have five living children together. Pitino and Minardi got married in 1976 and have stayed together through some trying times.
Minardi and Pitino met each other in the early 1970s when they both attended St. Dominic’s High School in Oyster Bay, Long Island, according to Newsday.
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One of those times was in 2009, when Pitino announced he was being extorted by a woman he had a brief affair with in 2003.
On April 18, 2009, http://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/news/story?id=4080340Pitino announced he was getting extorted by the wife of a Louisville equipment manager. On April 24, Karen Cunagin Sypher, the wife of Tim Sypher, was charged in federal court with extortion and lying to federal agents.
Pitino said he reported threats from Karen Sypher and the F.B.I launched an investigation into the matter. The longtime coach said he didn’t want to go public with the matter, but decided to after a news organization was questioning it.
“I recently learned that the individual behind this extortion attempt has already gone to the media with false, defamatory and outrageous allegations in an attempt to pressure me to cave in to this scheme,” Pitino said in a statement.
Sources told ESPN.com that Pitino received threatening phone calls in February 2009 from Sypher and “possibly others” and the calls continued in the weeks that followed. Finally, Pitino contacted authorities in late March.
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According to Tim Sypher, the two were in the process of getting a divorce, and he issued a statement of his own saying he was “devastated” by the “bizarre” allegations Karen is making against Pitino and himself.
“At this point, my primary concern is for my young daughter and four stepsons, both to the impact of their mother’s actions on them, as well as the impact on Coach’s family and the university,” Tim said. “I love my children, and want to protect them,” the statement said. “At the same time, I intend to defend the allegations vigorously and will have no additional comment at this time.”
Pitino and Sypher had a sexual relationship that dated back to July 2003, and Pitino accused her of making demands such as cash, cars and a house to stay quiet about the affair. Sypher was found guilty of the charges and was sentenced to over seven years in a federal prison for her extortion attempt.
2. Pitino’s Son Died at 6-Months Old
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Pitino and Minardo have five living children: Michael, Christopher, Richard, Ryan and Jacqueline. In 1987, however, the couple experienced the loss of their newborn son, Daniel Paul. He died just at just 6-months old due to congenital heart failure.
“I knew that something good had to come out off this,” Joanne said during a 1987 speech as she clutched an basketball. “God doesn’t just cause such pain.”
Daniel’s death occurred as Pitino was the coach at Providence and on the final day of the Big East Tournament. Former player Dave Kipfer said the room was silent the first practice after his coach’s sons death.
“At the first practice after it happened, everyone was kind of quiet. We didn’t know what to say, or how to act,” Kipfer said to The New York Times. “Finally, coach called a meeting and told us that the best thing we could do for him and his family was to win as many games as we could to keep his mind off it. Nothing’s been said since, but deep down I think everybody’s trying to win for coach.”
After his death, the couple established the Daniel Pitino Foundation in his memory. The charitable organization has raised millions of dollars over the years for children in need.
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3. Their Son Richard is the Coach at Minnesota
Following in his father’s footsteps, Richard Pitino has worked his way up the coaching ranks and is now the coach at the University of Minnesota.
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Richard started as an administrative assistant at the College of Charleston in 2004 and worked his wan through the coaching ranks with a number of assistant jobs. In 2009, he worked under Billy Donovan at the University of Florida and left the school in 2011 to become the associate head coach at Louisville under his father.
In 2012, Richard received his first head coaching position when he was named the coach at Florida International University, replacing Isiah Thomas. Just one year later, Richard was on the move again, this time to Minnesota where he replaced Tubby Smith.
In his four seasons as the Gophers’ coach, Richard’s led the team to a 75-61 record with one NCAA Tournament berth.
4. Petino’s Brother-in-Law Was Killed in the September 11 Terrorist Attacks
The loss of their son wasn’t the last tragedy that struck the Petinos. Joanne’s brother, Billy Minardi, worked as a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald. Their office was located on the 105th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center and was hit by American Airlines Flight 11. Billy died in the terrorist attack, and the Louisville community has worked to remember him in the years that have followed.
Every season since 2002, Louisville has dedicated a home game in December as the Billy Minardi Classic, and a dorm on the campus is named Billy Minardi Hall.
Pitino often referred to Billy as being his “best friend” and said he was the one to coax him back into college basketball after coaching for the Celtics.
“My wife and I always say that life will never be as good as when Billy was alive,” he told ESPN. “The void is that large for us. But with his children here, it helps so much. It doesn’t make up for the loss of their dad, but we all have each other.”
After winning the national championship in 2013, Pitino presented Billy’s widow, Mary Minardi Vogt, his Hall of Fame jersey.
5. Pitino’s Son Ryan Once Wore a Chicken Suit to Watch His Brother Coach
While attending a Minnesota game to watch Richard Pitino coach during his first season, Rick sat next to his son, Ryan. However, it’s safe to say he wasn’t expecting his wardrobe. The TV broadcast on Big Ten Network flashed to the pair in the stands behind the Minnesota bench and questioned why Ryan was wearing a chicken suit.
Ryan later explained why he did it on ESPN 680: “If you’re going to ‘The Barn,’ why not wear a chicken suit?”
He said he got the suit through a former Louisville video manager that works at Minnesota and upset his father, who wasn’t prepared.
“I go, ‘I’ve got a chicken suit I’m going to wear. Just don’t worry about it,’” Ryan sai on the radio interview. “He goes, ‘No you’re not. You can’t do that.’ So I did it, and it turned out to be a pretty funny thing.”
Ryan works in financial services, according to The New York Times.