By Andrew Wolfson
The attorney for ousted University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino said his client is cooperating with the FBI and did nothing wrong in the bribery scandal that has rocked college basketball.
But lawyer Steve Pence declined to reveal what Pitino discussed with an Adidas apparel executive in three conversations just before the University of Louisville unexpectedly signed star high school recruit Brian Bowen June 3.
"The substance of that I'm not going to reveal at the moment," Pence said in a 20-minute interview Tuesday night on Ramsey & Rutherford on 790 KRD radio.
Pitino previously told a Courier-Journal reporter that he was discussing former Louisville player Terry Rozier's sponsorship deal with Adidas in phone calls with Adidas executive James Gatto.
Pence offered a preview of the defense he is expected to mount Monday before the University of Louisville Athletic Association, which has said it intends to fire the Hall of Fame coach for the "scheme of fraud and malfeasance in the recruitment of student-athletes" by Pitino and members of his staff.
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Pence said he will show the university made a "rush to judgment" in effectively terminating Pitino even though the criminal complaint filed in New York doesn't charge Pitino with a crime or misconduct.
"There was an emotional reaction to this -- people are frustrated and I get that," Pence said on the show. "But when people act emotionally -- and we see this all the time -- they are apt to do something very stupid."
In remarks directed at interim President Greg Postel, Pence said that while he doesn't know Postel's motivation, "I'm sure the interim president is hoping someday to be permanent president. There is some politics involved with this, obviously."
Pence also said that "people are quick to say it happened under coach Pitino's watch. But it was also under the watch of Postel. It was also under the watch of this board."
And Pence noted that Postel's move to fire Pitino came just a few weeks after the interim president defended him in the escort scandal, saying there is no way he could have known about it.
University spokesman John Karman declined to respond to Pence's remarks. "We don't feel that it would be appropriate for the university to engage in a public dialogue with Mr. Pence on these issues," he said. Pence did not immediately respond to a request to elaborate on his comments during the radio program.
Postel moved to fire Pitino the day after a 28-page criminal complaint filed by the FBI in New York alleged that Adidas' global marketing executive, James Gatto, and other defendants conspired with coaches at a university later identified as the University of Louisville to funnel $100,000 to the family of a player to secure his commitment to the university.
In the radio interview, Pence did not directly confirm that Pitino was the Coach 2 set out in the complaint, but Pence says that there is no evidence that that coach did anything wrong.
"Coach 2 had conversations with a guy from Adidas," Pence said. "That's it. And he had conversations with Adidas before Bowen signs with the university. So what's wrong with that? There would be nothing really unusual about those conversations."
Pence also said that while the complaint says defendant Christian Dawkins, a business manager, claimed in a conversation recorded a couple of months later at a Las Vegas hotel room that he had spoken with Coach 2 about getting more money for Bowen's family, there is no evidence that Dawkins really made that call.
Pence, a former federal prosecutor and lieutenant governor, said that by July 27, when Dawkins made that claim, he probably was already under a court-approved wiretap and there are no signs the conversation was picked up.
"There is no evidence that the conversation occurred, and there is every indication it didn't," Pence said. "Why punish the coach for something we can't confirm?"
Without offering details, Pence repeatedly said that if Pitino is eventually exonerated, there would be "severe consequences" for the university.
Pence didn't address one of the reasons Postel cited for placing Pitino on leave in his Sept. 27 suspension letter -- that the allegations in United States v. Gatto "severely damage" the university's reputation.
Pence conceded that "some things that have gone on here may be indefensible," but that neither Pitino nor anyone else can "guarantee the conduct of other people."
"All you can do is train them and get on them, and in time you will see the coach hammered into them the need for compliance and to toe the line."
Pence acknowledged that coaches can be fired for "any number of reasons. And coach Pitino can be fired as well. But he can't be fired for cause" because "there is no reason to fire the coach. And that is what we are going to point out on Monday."