(Reuters) – University of Louisville basketball head coach Rick Pitino was placed on administrative leave in the wake of a federal bribery investigation, the university’s interim president said on Wednesday.
Pitino, a Hall of Fame coach who steered the Cardinals to a national championship in 2013, was placed on unpaid leave a day after a probe alleged that coaches with four college basketball programs participated in a scheme to pay recruits’ families.
“While the investigation is continuing and no charges have been filed against the University of Louisville or any of its employees, the allegations are serious,” Louisville’s interim president, Greg Postel, told a news conference.
“It is vital for this university to strictly adhere to NCAA rules and enforce federal law. Doing nothing would be a tacit endorsement of unethical and criminal behavior,” he added.
Postel said Pitino’s employment with the men’s program will be reviewed at a later date and that he hopes to name an interim replacement for him and athletic director Tom Jurich, who was also put on leave, in the next 48 hours.
Before the news conference, Pitino’s attorney, Steve Pence, told the Courier-Journal newspaper the coach had been “effectively fired.”
The scandal, which has rocked college basketball, involves at least four named men’s assistant college coaches from around the country and an Adidas AG (ADSGn.DE) executive.
It is the latest in a series of scandals during Pitino’s 16-year stint with Louisville, including a National Collegiate Athletic Association investigation into the use of strippers and prostitutes to attract players to the men’s basketball program.
The NCAA handed Louisville heavy sanctions as a result and said the program must vacate wins that could include the 2013 national title. The university is appealing that decision.
Pitino was also involved in a sex scandal when he admitted in 2009 to having sex with the wife of a Louisville equipment manager, and having paid for her to have an abortion. Pitino said he was being extorted, and the woman was later convicted.
Pitino, 65, took over at Louisville after a spending four seasons with the National Basketball Association’s Boston Celtics. Prior to that he was a coach at the University of Kentucky, where he led the men’s basketball program back to prominence and won a national title in 1996.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis