Pitino faces greatest challenge in wake of explicit sex scandal

Published 2:42 am Thursday, August 13, 2009

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In a state where basketball is king, Rick Pitino cuts quite the fine figure.

Designer suits, Italian dress shoes, best-selling books on how to succeed on the court and in life, a hit TV commercial with fellow college coaching titans Bobby Knight, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, a devout Roman Catholic whose priest friend often leads the Louisville team in pregame prayer.

On top of that, he’s a winner.

His greatest challenge, however, may be saving his career and reputation in the midst of a salacious scandal.

The woman accused of trying to extort $10 million from Pitino approached him in a restaurant six years ago and they had sex, the coach told police. Sypher says the sex happened after closing time at a table.

Two weeks later, the married father of five gave Karen Sypher $3,000 after she said she was going to have an abortion and didn’t have health insurance, according to a summary of Pitino’s July 12 statement to police. His attorney, Steve Pence, said Wednesday that the money was to help her get medical coverage, not specifically to pay for an abortion.

‘‘The coach believed that the money was for insurance, that’s what she said it was for and that’s the way his report reads,’’ Pence said.

University of Louisville President James Ramsey expressed surprise at the new details in the scandal surrounding the 56-year-old coach, a staunch Roman Catholic whose contract includes dishonesty and moral depravity as grounds for firing.

Pitino said Wednesday that he’ll continue coaching the Cardinals ‘‘as long as they will have me.’’ He apologized for what he called an ‘‘indiscretion.’’

‘‘I do want to say that the past seven months have been very difficult on the people I love,’’ Pitino said. ‘‘I am here today because I personally apologize to my family every single day. I let them down with my indiscretion six years ago and I’m sorry for that and I tell them that every day.’’

He said he would ‘‘be quiet’’ about the extortion case, but that he is cooperating with authorities and has consistently told them, his family and friends the truth. He did not take questions.