It obviously hasn’t been a great last seven months for the Louisville men’s basketball program. But when the pay-for-play scandal broke in September, the Cardinals athletic department didn’t really have a choice – the department had to fire coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.
This week, Louisville had a choice, and the athletic department chose more uncertainty for its men’s basketball team.
On Wednesday, Louisville announced it wouldn’t retain interim coach David Padgett, who reportedly took over the program on a six-month contract after the Cardinals fired Pitino with cause last fall.
In one season, Padgett led Louisville to a 22-14 record, including 9-9 in the ACC play. The Cardinals failed to make the NCAA Tournament, and despite a report that players voted against accepting an invitation to the NIT, Louisville played in the “consolation” tournament and advanced to the quarterfinals, where they fell to fourth-seeded Mississippi State.
Louisville had no choice but to hand Padgett the reigns of the program last September. Just weeks before the season, no college level basketball coach was readily available for hire. Now with a full offseason, it makes sense for the Cardinals to search for a more experienced coach. Interim athletic director Vince Tyra made it clear Louisville will not only be searching for an experienced coach but an “elite” one.
But keeping Padgett would have given Louisville something it hasn’t had much of the last seven months – stability. This is a school that still has decisions to make on its president and athletic director. Retaining a coach that is loyal to Louisville rather than a specific AD would be rather ideal right now.
Padgett is exactly that guy. After playing at Louisville from 2005-08, Padgett had a brief playing career overseas and then began his coaching career at IUPUI. However, it didn’t take him long to return home, as he became a Cardinals assistant in 2014.
Stability for the sake of stability is silly, and yes, at 33 with no previous head coaching experience, one could argue Padgett was in over his head this season. But all things considered, Padgett did an excellent job. Several analysts argued Louisville deserved to be in the field of 68 and may have been snubbed because of the black cloud over the program.
One program that benefited from the selection committee’s decisions, Syracuse, has taken advantage of its bid and won three games to advance to the Sweet 16. Who’s to say Louisville wouldn’t still be playing if that were them, and how much that could have changed the program’s view of Padgett.
There’s little doubt that he is going to succeed in the coaching world. Why wouldn’t Tyra want that to be at Louisville? Under Padgett, it may take a few more years for the Cardinals to be a true contender — until Padgett becomes a more seasoned coach — but who’s to say Louisville is going to be ready to win championships again even under an elite coach next season.
Depending on how the FBI probe pans out, Louisville could lose more scholarships, hampering the program’s ability to compete. Will Louisville really be able to hire an elite coach with that kind of black cloud over its program? Fran Fraschilla of ESPN argued yes.
“I think it’s (Louisville) still a great job,” Fraschilla said according to The Courier-Journal. “It’s still at least a top-20 job, primarily because of three things: The incredible history, one of the nicest facilities in the country — both come with a great fan base — and they play in, if not the best, one of the premier and most visible leagues in the country.”
Former Louisville basketball great Butch Beard isn’t so optimistic. He said this week that Louisville “is at everybody’s mercy” and that the death penalty is still in play.
“This is not only the University of Louisville; we’re just the tip of the iceberg,” Beard said. “[But] the thing that’s scary about it is you say, ‘Well, I don’t know if the NCAA will do anything drastic.’ Well, since we’re the first [of recent repeat offenders], somebody’s going to be made an example of. …
“What is about to happen, theoretically, with the federal government, that is scary.”
Where Chis Mack and other potential coaching hires fall in this argument will greatly depend on whether Louisville can indeed land an elite coach. But one thing’s for sure, the Cardinals elected for more uncertainty in its men’s basketball program this spring.
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