What Is Rick Thinking?

| March 8, 2012
GARRY JONES | Contributing Photographer

GARRY JONES | Contributing Photographer

It’s time for some big-boy talk about Rick Pitino, his University of Louisville basketball team and his program that has become a train wreck before our very eyes.

The bottom line is that Pitino needs new, different recruiters who can impress players and their mothers.

He used to shed assistant coaches or send them off to bigger and better jobs than they had here.

It was supposed to be understood by the departing aides that they would never, never embarrass Pitino by beating the Cardinals.

Hello, Mick Cronin, now the UofL beater who coaches the University of Cincinnati. The Bearcats clawed the feathers off the Cardinals recently in the Queen City.

Pitino assistants used to be coveted by other schools.

But it’s different now. Is it time for a major shakeup of the UofL staff?

No, not just time, it’s absolutely necessary—NOW!

John Calipari and his Kentucky staff have out-recruited Pitino and his assistants every year.

During Calipari’s three years at Kentucky, his Wildcats have beaten Pitino’s Cardinals every year. One of UK’s assistants is UofL product Kenny Payne. Now that hurts.

Head-to-head, Calipari leads Pitino 3-0 and there are no signs that there will be anything different in the near future.

If Pitino won’t shake up his staff, I don’t see how his boss, Tom Jurich, can not have a heart-to-heart with him. UofL fans are grumbling and the grumbling is aimed squarely at Pitino. Has he lost his luster? And, if so, why?

Prior to last week, South Florida had never beaten UofL. This time, it was not the Cardinals who finished strong, but the Bulls. And that’s no bull.

A Rick Successor?

If Pitino did leave UofL, who would be Jurich’s choice to succeed him?

A young coach like Scott Davenport would be a good hire. Don’t laugh. He has won a state championship (at Ballard) and an NCAA Divison II national championship (at Bellarmine University). If any coach can win at squeaky-clean Bellarmine and graduate every one of his players, he could win anywhere.

Nine out of 10 top college coaches would line up at Jurich’s door if a change was made.

Davenport is as clean as the Daytona 500 racetrack after being doused with Tide during the final night of the two-day race.

Procter & Gamble spends more money on advertising than any other company in the world—and danged if the Cincinnati behemoth didn’t get oodles and oodles of national and international publicity for free when boxes after boxes of Tide were spread to cleanse the track of spilled oil.

A Strong Guy

I could have warned golf course owner Billy Todd (Winchester’s Southwind Golf Course) about playing golf or any other sport with Guy Strong. Guy and I started kindergarten together in 1935 and want all the way through school together in Irvine. He went to UK, became a battery commander as an artillery captain during the Korean War and finished at Eastern. I did just the opposite, starting at Eastern, taught in two one-room schools, transferred to UK and then to the Army for two years.

Guy is one of those guys who hasn’t found the sport he can’t play. He went to a Major League baseball tryout camp at Winchester during high school and scout Ben Tincup tried to sign him.

But he stayed in school, brought Irvine High to the 1948 State Tournament, played on an NCAA national championship team at UK, pitched for UK and had some pitching battles with two future Major Leaguers, Steve Hamilton and Woody Fryman, in the Blue Grass League.

Back to Winchester’s Southwind Golf Course: Guy aced the 145-yard par-3 15th hole. It was his fourth ace at Southwind. Now get this: Overall, it was the eighth ace for Strong! He will be 82 in August.

For the record: He coached an OVC championship basketball team for Eastern and won Kentucky Wesleyan’s first of many national championships.

After four years as head coach at Oklahoma State, Guy and Aleen came back home. He took a Clark County team to the State Tournament and got out of coaching and retired as Clark County’s principal.

Just to prove that most athletes can play just about anything, I got tennis pro Chuck Cooper to keep his tennis center open one night so Strong and another basketball star, Howie Crittenden of Cuba High fame, could play a little tennis.

Yes, of course they were pretty good.

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Category: Earl Cox on Sports

About the Author (Author Profile)

Earl Cox, Sports Columnist
502.897.8910

Earl doesn¹t just write about sports legends, he counts many of them as his
friends. A member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, he has been writing
about sports for 60 years. Incidentally, that¹s about how long it’s been
since he¹s cleaned his desk but he knows where everything is.

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  1. Murphy says:

    Assistants with a direct line to World Wide Wes? Is that what you mean, Earl?