Former University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino is suing the school's athletic department for the more than $35 million in compensation that remained on his contract.

Louisville fired Pitino in October after it was determined he had knowledge of and supported a system whereby the university's sponsor shoe company Adidas was paying recruits to sign with the Cardinals. By claiming it had "just cause" for the termination, Louisville relieved itself of honoring the remainder of Pitino's contract. On Thursday, Pitino filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit in U.S. District Court, claiming the University of Louisville Athletic Associaton did not have a case for the "just cause" firing. It also claims that Louisville did not properly inform Pitino that he had been placed on administrative leave, which his lawyers claim was tantamount to termination.

According to Louisville Courier Journal, Pitino seeks $4.3 million per year, the value of his contract, from the date of the school's last payment through his contract's end in June 2026, or the value of his actual losses, which includes his personal Adidas contract. Adidas terminated its personal services contract with Pitino after he was fired.

Three causes were cited for the firing. One, the university asserted that Pitino was involved in or had knowledge of the illegal recruiting tactics. Secondly, Pitino failed to alert the athletic department to the presence on campus of Christian Dawkins, a rogue agent. And third, Pitino failed to exercise control over his program in the wake of allegations that escorts had been purchased to entice recruits, the university claimed.

Pitino's legal team counters that the former coach never admitted to wrongdoing, even when wiretapped, and that he had insufficient knowledge of Dawkins to warrant reporting his presence to the athletic department.

According to Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann, Pitino's lawsuit faces long odds of succeeding. "This is mainly because Pitino’s contract contains expansive and vague language for the university to construct a valid rationale for firing with just cause," McCann writes. "For instance, he would have violated his contract by failing to: diligently supervise compliance of his assistant coaches; promote an atmosphere of compliance; or avoid disparaging media publicity. In order to conclude that Pitino did not violate his contract, one would likely have to believe that Pitino was unaware and uninvolved in any of the corruption that was both around him and that appeared to benefit him."

 

 

Paul Steinbach is Senior Editor of Athletic Business.