Pitino's 'honest' action speaks louder than his words

May 8, 1997

Just a month ago, on a quick visit here to jack up sales of his book, Rick Pitino told a Boston writer the same thing he admitted telling a group of trusting kids.

"I can honestly say I'll be back at Kentucky," he vowed, pooh-poohing speculation he might abandon the Wildcats to coach the Celtics. "I have already told that to some of my recruits. I mean that. That's an honest answer.

"I have videos of Lou Holtz saying he will never leave Notre Dame; the next thing you know, he's announcing he's stepping down. I have a video of John Calipari saying he doesn't have one ounce of interest in pro basketball; the next thing, he's in New Jersey saying this is what he's always wanted to do. It makes them both look like pathological liars.

"I'm 100 percent sincere and honest when I say I intend to be back in Kentucky."

He'll have more to say at 1 this afternoon, only this time he'll be standing behind a bank of microphones at the FleetCenter, accepting the reins of the Celtics, who wooed him here with a coaching contract reportedly worth $ 40-70 million.

So if, as he suggested, Holtz and Calipari were pathological liars, what in the world does he think he is?

He brings to mind the tale about the gal who's asked if she would provide an evening's pleasure for $ 1,000? She agrees, and is then asked, "Would you do it for $ 100?" Angered, she replies, "One hundred? What do you think I am?" To which the john responds, "We already know what you are. All we're determining now is your price."

The Celtics met Pitino's price, but that doesn't change what he is.

When he recruited kids to play for him at Kentucky, he was asking them to take a leap of faith, to invest their hopes and dreams in his integrity:"Sign with us, son. We'll put that ball in your hands. We've got a system that's tailored especially for you."

So the kid says no to everyone else, committing himself to Coach Pitino, only now Coach Pitino is gone in hot pursuit of his own hopes and dreams.

What happens to that kid? Suppose the next Kentucky coach has a different system, a different philosophy, one that doesn't favor him at all? Can he leave, too? Can he reconsider the offer another coach made, assuming that other coach still has a scholarship to spare?

No. That kid has no options. He's expected to keep his word, even though this man who wooed him is allowed to break his own word with impunity.

What would you say to that kid now, Rick?

And what would you say to his parents, who also trusted you?

Would you just shrug and tell them, "Tough luck?"

How about, "I've got mine?"

At least that would be honest.

If Pitino knew his heart's desire was to cash in, big time, he could have signed a series of annual contracts with Kentucky, letting everyone know that, while his commitment was firm, his future wasn't.

He'd still have earned a king's ransom.

But that's not how it works. These guys want all the security they can get, while still reserving the right to walk away whenever it suits their fancy.

If Pitino's teams had lost, do you think the college could have walked away from its obligation to him?

Fat chance.

Oh, he's a gifted coach, and a charismatic personality, too, assuring him of a long honeymoon with sycophantic writers who are now gathering palm branches to wave before him when he walks down Causeway Street today.

But somewhere this morning there are kids wondering how they're going to reassemble broken promises, and the man who made those promises won't be any help at all.

He won't even be there.

He'll be here, making promises to someone else.

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