Louisville didn’t take long to make its first offseason move, parting ways interim men’s basketball coach David Padgett less than 24 hours after the Cardinals season ended.
The former Cardinals player was brought in to bring calm amid turmoil and upheaval after the school placed coach Rick Pitino on unpaid administrative leave following its acknowledgement that it was being investigated in a federal corruption probe of college basketball .
Padgett did his job. He went 22-14 after being elevated from second-year Louisville assistant last fall.
“It was just a learning experience,” Padgett said Wednesday at a news conference on campus. “I didn’t give myself expectations, I didn’t give my team expectations. But having never done something before, you’re always going to say, how am I going to do, doing it for the first time. All things considered, I think it went really, really well.”
School officials say they appreciate the job he did, but obviously it wasn’t good enough.
Interim athletic director Vince Tyra thanked Padgett in a statement for taking over the program “during incredible circumstances,” and added, “We expect to determine a new head coach in a short period to build upon the great basketball tradition of this university.”
The AD didn’t elaborate on candidates to replace Padgett, but later said that Louisville would seek a top-level coach.
“It is an elite program, it’s going to remain an elite program and our opportunity right now is to hire an elite coach to maintain that,” Tyra said.
Pitino was fired in October after 16 seasons. Players had pushed for the former Cardinals player to be the interim replacement, and the 33-year-old Padgett guided the team to a quarterfinal appearance in the NIT.
Padgett thanked many people including his wife, Megan. He also praised Cardinals players for dealing with a series of incidents, from the initial investigation and Pitino’s firing to the removal of the program’s 2013 NCAA championship banner as part of sanctions for an escort scandal.
“The way they’ve handled this, the way they’ve made this fun for me is something I’ll always remember and will always treasure,” said Padgett, who met with his players after being informed. “It’s group of 14 players that I’ll have a special place in my heart for a long time.”
Padgett was paid a $400,000 base salary and another $400,000 for a TV and radio show in a contract that runs to the end of September.
A 6-foot-11 post player for Pitino, Padgett took over for the former coach days before practice began and spent most of October hastily trying to put together a coaching staff. Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were both fired that month in the aftermath of the investigation in which an Adidas executive is alleged to have paid the family of Cardinals recruit Brian Bowen to attend the university.
Pitino has repeatedly said that he had no knowledge of any payment to a recruit’s family.
Louisville held Bowen out of practices and games shortly after the investigation surfaced before announcing in November that he would not play for the university. Bowen eventually transferred to South Carolina in January.
The Cardinals went 9-9 in Atlantic Coast Conference play but endured several disappointing losses down the stretch that kept them out of the NCAA Tournament. The most painful was arguably a 67-66 loss to then-No. 1 Virginia earlier this month in which Louisville blew a four-point lead in the final seconds.
Through everything, Padgett deflected discussion about his future at Louisville and tried to keep the focus on basketball. Whether this season leads to another job as a head coach or an assistant remains to be seen, but he was thankful for the chance on short notice.
“My goal getting into this was to become a head coach,” he said. “Obviously, it happened sooner and in a much different way than I anticipated, but that’s my goal. I hope that I’ve done enough this year to show some people out there that I can certainly do it.”
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