Inside Rick’s New Looking Glass

By Rick Bozich
Updated: August 13, 2009

LOUISVILLE — The world tilts for Rick Pitino now. His motivational riffs, his player discipline and his recruiting battles will not be viewed the way they were viewed before this Jerry Springer episode erupted in his life.

Every twitch in the University of Louisville men’s basketball program will be examined through this freshly clouded prism. You take a king-size personality and achiever like Pitino, put him in the middle of combustible topics such as marital infidelity, a $3,000 payment, abortion, religion and extortion, and you wonder how long and how fiercely this story about his encounter with Karen Sypher will rage.

Pitino showed terrible judgment in having sex with Sypher that night in Porcini restaurant. He has always leaned on his players to do the right thing. It’s one of the qualities that defined him. Now he has erred and done it while working to develop responsible college students.

No matter how forgiving UofL President Dr. James Ramseyand athletic director Tom Jurich were in their written statements Wednesday, it was reckless behavior likely to transform some Pitino fans into Pitino critics.

Public opinion will count in this story. Pitino is a very public Catholic man in a strong Catholic community. For some, the aborted Sypher pregnancy will resonate beyond a Big East championship.

Pitino’s drawn face seemed to reflect that as he bounded down the steps from his second-floor office in the Yum! Center to deliver his five-minute apology at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

It was the personal and public apology he had to make — his words, his vulnerability, his perspective, not a recitation of a statement crafted by a lawyer or public-relations handler. Pitino knew he had to get it right, and the apology was the proper start.

I’m not here to condemn or condone. I’m not certain I comprehend the countless bizarre twists in this tale — such as the awkward idea of Sypher being on the periphery of Pitino’s program the last five-plus years after she married his equipment manager (Tim Sypher) months after the August 2003 encounter and the subsequent abortion.

The story crackled across the Internet, television and talk radio Wednesday, ranking as the fifth most popular overall news story on at 5 p.m.

“Sex Scandal Rocks Coach!”

That’s not my headline. That’s the headline that screamed from one rotating front page on America Online, complete with mug shots of Pitino and Sypher. Writers from New York, Atlanta, Cincinnati and other cities speculated whether Pitino would be fired or suspended. A radio host in Chicago worked Porcini into his show.

Opposing coaches won’t have to spread the news. They’ll only have to spread the uncertainty about whether Pitino, about five weeks from his 57th birthday, will have the motivational fire as well as the flame-resistant psyche to overcome this.

He already has to explain why his son Richard, a bright, determined young assistant coach, bolted for the University of Florida about the time this story started to break.

During his apology Wednesday, Pitino said he has asked for the forgiveness of his family every day. They are indeed the innocent victims of his behavior. You hope that is not what inspired a son to stop working for his father, especially in a relationship that thrived.

Just last week there was the jarring decision by Fabricio de Melo, the 7-foot Brazilian, to spurn Pitino to play for Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. Did de Melo simply pick another school, or did he question Pitino’s future? Will others? Those questions will not be going away.

Then there is the road, already a difficult place. It’s about to become relentlessly cruel, especially in student sections that will be energized by a Pitino visit.

The world absolutely tilts for Rick Pitino now.

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