LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville Athletic Association’s board unanimously voted Monday to begin the process to terminate Rick Pitino “for cause,” which will take the school off the hook for the $44 million buyout in his contract if it succeeds.
Pitino was placed on unpaid administrative leave last week after he was tied to an alleged scheme to funnel $100,000 to the family of five-star recruit Brian Bowen Jr. with cash arranged by Adidas executive Jim Gatto.
“The board requested of me and authorized me to initiate the process to terminate for cause, as defined in Coach Pitino’s employment contract,” interim president Greg Postel said after the athletic association board’s meeting.
Postel said Pitino’s success at the school was not factored into the board’s decision.
“The fact that he has accomplishments — he does — is really unrelated,” Postel said. “It’s important that we be fair and follow the agreement and do this right for any employee.”
Attorneys for Pitino, according to WDRB.com, officially served a breach of contract notice to the school on Monday, which means Pitino and the university are likely headed toward a contentious legal battle over the millions he believes he’s owed.
The school, according to Postel, believes it is only responsible for “10 days additional salary” from the day Pitino was removed, per the coach’s contractual stipulations related to termination for cause. According to the numbers seen by ESPN, 10 days of salary would be $11,800.
Walking away without giving Pitino more money could be difficult for the university, an attorney who works as outside council for a Power 5 athletic conference, told ESPN’s Darren Rovell and Ryan Smith last week.
The allegation that Bowen took $100,000 to steer him to Louisville is part of a government investigation, not an NCAA one. And it’s currently not an act of criminality — another condition that would allow Louisville to terminate Pitino without paying him further.
Pitino’s contract also contains a standard morals clause, but the Power 5 attorney said he thinks that also might fall short without any concrete evidence that Pitino was complicit in bringing the recruit to the Cardinals.
In a letter dated Sept. 27, 2017, and released Monday, Postel told Pitino that his ties to a corruption scandal that’s rocked college basketball “constitute material violations of your Employment Contract.”
Earlier Monday, Postel said the school would also re-evaluate its recently negotiated 10-year, $160 million extension with Adidas.
Postel also admonished athletic director Tom Jurich, who also was placed on paid leave, in the letter for a lack of communication before the Adidas extension was negotiated.
“In addition, as we’ve discussed, your recent negotiation of the terms of the updated sponsorship deal with Adidas was conducted without timely or appropriate consultation with me or members of the Board of Directors of the University of Louisville Athletics Association,” Postel said in the letter.
Postel added, “It would have been nice to know more about the [Adidas] agreement.”
ESPN’s Darren Rovell confirmed that Jurich’s daughter was hired by Adidas as an NCAA brand communications manager earlier this year, prior to the negotiation of the school’s extension with the shoe and apparel giant.
Her father’s status was not decided at Monday’s board of trustees meeting. The board will make a final decision on Jurich at their Oct. 18 meeting.
“There has been no termination of Mr. Jurich,” Postel said.
Jurich has internal support. Football coach Bobby Petrino said Saturday that he hopes his “close friend” returns as athletic director, even though his exit would cut the football coach’s buyout in half.
And Louisville swim coach Arthur Albiero tweeted Monday that the school’s coaches had met and unanimously backed Jurich.
Postel said he hopes to meet with the coaches Tuesday and discuss their concerns.
“I certainly understand the loyalty of these coaches,” Postel said. “I don’t hold that against them. These people know each other, work together. They were recruited by [Jurich]. I completely understand that. I don’t have a problem with that.”
Postel said Jurich could retain his job, given his status as an employee on leave, but he also said he intends to call a Tuesday news conference to announce an interim athletic director.
J. David Grissom, chairman of the trustees board, said he has not faced any pressure to retain Jurich.
In letters to both Jurich and Pitino last week, Postel said he removed both in part due to concerns about allegations that “damage the reputation” of the school.
Jurich’s lawyer, Alison M. Stemler, disputed Postel’s allegations in a Sept. 29 letter to him and emailed to media late Monday.
Stemler pointed out Jurich’s Sept. 1 memo to university attorney Becky Strohm that said several university officials and attorneys participated in negotiations with the sportswear maker and assisted in at least 11 meetings. Jurich also wasn’t aware of misconduct or criminal activity, the letter added, and did not “cause or contribute” to negative publicity for the university.
Louisville’s intention to name an interim replacement for Jurich also suggests the school doesn’t plan for him to return to work “in the foreseeable future.” That would violate a contract clause requiring that Jurich receive 90 days’ notice of termination without cause.
Louisville is appealing its punishments from the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions after the 2015 sex-for-pay scandal.
On Monday, Postel said the NCAA has not told Louisville about any new investigations related to men’s basketball after last week’s developments.
ESPN’s Darren Rovell contributed to this report.