A Gophers basketball player was arrested over the weekend on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct. That’s all the public knows at this point.
Reggie Lynch remained jailed in Minneapolis on Monday but had not been charged. Unless and until he’s convicted of a crime, Lynch deserves the presumption of innocence.
Even if he’s exonerated, his arrest has shined more undesirable light on a basketball program and coach that have had their fill of negative headlines.
Richard Pitino has an image problem. His program has an image problem. That means University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler has a problem, too.
Pitino’s three-year résumé at Minnesota includes two players arrested, two dismissed from the program for conduct issues and three others suspended following the release of a sex tape on one of the player’s social media accounts. That player, Kevin Dorsey, left the program after last season.
The sum of those cases qualifies as a pattern.
Pitino hasn’t proven that he can win on the court, either. He just oversaw one of the worst seasons in Gophers history. His program — and the entire athletic department — appears rudderless at present.
Pitino looks so in over his head and his program is in such disarray that one wonders if he will need to do damage control with recruits and almost re-recruit them to avoid losing their trust.
Pitino holds a $7.1 million buyout in his back pocket, an albatross that stands in the way of a coaching change, if Kaler were so inclined.
The Gophers still don’t have a new athletic director, so any immediate decision on Pitino rests with Kaler. Here is what the president said in March in announcing his internal committee for the athletic director search:
“Our men’s basketball team has had a pretty terrible year,” he said, “and I think they will — I don’t want to say rebound from it, because that’ll make you groan — but I think they will be able to recover. I think Richard Pitino has great potential, and he shows a high degree of self-awareness about who he is and where he is and what needs to happen next.”
What needs to happen is normalcy off the court, competency on it. Until Pitino shows he’s capable of delivering that, his job status will be examined closely, though his buyout creates a roadblock.
On the very same day that Norwood Teague resigned in disgrace as athletic director last fall, Pitino signed his contract that called for a $400,000 raise and increased his buyout by more than $4 million.
Interesting timing, right?
Nobody in a position of authority at the university — specifically Kaler — thought to slow down and examine the situation.
Teague admitted to sexually harassing two high-ranking university officials and also revealed he had a drinking problem. And yet nobody questioned Teague’s hefty buyout to a young coach who had accomplished next to nothing, except to bamboozle Teague with an unsubstantiated rumor that another school might be interested in hiring him.
Kaler authorized that $7 million buyout because … well, actually I still have no clue why he agreed to it. Pitino certainly didn’t earn it.
One week after Teague’s abrupt departure, Kaler’s chief of staff Amy Phenix and interim AD Beth Goetz signed a contract that basically stuck the university with a coach who has ushered the program into crisis.
“The terms [of his contract] were negotiated months before the contract was signed,” Kaler wrote in an e-mail to the Star Tribune in March. “Intervening events did not change the rationale we had in agreeing to those terms in the spring.”
This is your university leadership, folks.
Let’s not forget that Pitino wasn’t the top choice for the job. Or second. Only Teague knows how far down the list he went before he reached Pitino’s name.
The next athletic director will inherit a tough situation with men’s basketball, which has to be part of the interview process with candidate finalists.
Fans are turned off by the product on the court and the problems off it. Pitino’s popularity rating is abysmal, we have no idea if he can succeed at this level and his buyout complicates everything. More bad news could come this week.
What a mess.