After the Syracuse Orange’s 78-73 upset win over the Louisville Cardinals last night, Jim Boeheim was asked about Rick Pitino’s absence. Unsurprisingly, he had some comments about his long-time friend and former assistant, and the situation around his firing. Most notably, this nugget:
“(Pitino)’s a great friend of mine and I feel bad about the whole situation. But it’s what happened. It’s interesting. The other three coaches are still coaching. I don’t know if that means anything or not.’’
For those needing a refresher, the FBI investigation around illegal recruiting activities this offseason initially found issues at 12 schools. The main ones, however, were Louisville, Arizona, USC, Oklahoma State, Auburn and Miami. Boeheim only alludes to four schools there — probably Louisville, Arizona, USC and Auburn.
USC’s Andy Enfield and Arizona’s Sean Miller would potentially be dealing with their first NCAA infractions. Auburn’s Bruce Pearl would not be.
Though nothing outward has ever transpired between Pearl and Boeheim, the Auburn coach has far from a sterling reputation in coaching circles. He’s known as a bit of a con man, as this Deadspin article details in full. He also took on the role of whistleblower against former Illinois assistant coach Jimmy Collins (a Syracuse native).
Pearl was long blackballed for his role in the affair, but eventually got himself a head coaching job. But the whistle was later blown on Pearl while at Tennessee, after he invited eventual Ohio State standout Aaron Craft to a cookout out his house during Craft’s unofficial visit. After it was found he tried to cover up the whole incident, he was fired from the Vols and given a show-cause penalty through 2014 — the same year he was hired at his current job, Auburn.
Now, this is where Boeheim’s own proximity to Pitino likely color his feelings vs. reality. Pearl’s not well-liked in older coaching circles due to his role in the Collins situation (it happened in the early 1990s, so a lot of the coaches around then have since retired). Boeheim’s in that older coaching circle, and has the impulse to defend long-time friend Pitino for what are “similar” missteps in his mind.
And if all both coaches did was commit a couple minor recruiting violations, then I’d agree. But as stories are coming out, it would seem that Pitino’s wrongdoing far outpaces what Pearl’s done to this point (yes, even if you put more negative weight on being a “rat” in Pearl’s case).
Pitino’s far from the only coach to be involved in some NCAA-related issues (and we know Boeheim himself has dealt with sanctions twice). But in a short span, not only was Pitino caught up in a pay-for-play scandal, but just a year or two removed from a postseason ban around a sex-for-play scandal with recruits. Before that, he’d also had a violation at Hawaii in 1977.
Needless to say, these weren’t cookouts and recorded phone calls. Especially at Louisville, Pitino’s program was seemingly “above the law” in most senses.
So Boeheim’s right to ding Pearl for his past and current transgressions. But hopefully he can acknowledge that Pitino was also very much in the wrong, multiple times.
Friends can sometimes block out the bad to defend one another — something Jim, like most of us, can certainly do. Admittedly, can’t really blame him for the slight jab, especially as Pearl is celebrated for another turnaround job, this time at Auburn.