Pitino settles with Louisville, ready for 'new chapter'

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A fiercely competitive coach on the court, Rick Pitino didn't want to fight in one anymore.

So the University of Louisville Athletic Association and Pitino settled lawsuits stemming from his departure from the school, with the former men's basketball coach's personnel file changing his termination to a resignation.

Pitino sued the ULAA for more than $38.7 million in November 2017, accusing it of breaching its contract by firing him for cause the previous month in the wake of a federal bribery investigation of college basketball. Louisville countersued, seeking monetary damages for vacated games and bonuses. The agreement comes a week after representatives for the association and Pitino held settlement talks at the federal courthouse that included the coach.

In a statement issued Wednesday through lawyer Steve Pence, Pitino said he was moving on "to a new chapter in my life."

"Against my lawyer's advice I'm dropping my lawsuit with ULAA," Pitino said. "I am very proud of the many accomplishments my teams achieved at Louisville. I'm so thankful and honored to coach such dedicated athletes. I'm also disappointed in how it ended. But as head coach I am held responsible for the actions of all team members."

The settlement unanimously approved by the ULAA said Pitino received compensation and the school agreed not to pursue further legal action. It changes his departure to a resignation effective Oct. 3, 2017 — 13 days before the ULAA fired him after 16 seasons as coach of the Cardinals.

Athletic director Vince Tyra called the settlement "a terrific outcome for the university. ... We were solid in our stance from the very beginning that this was a zero liability for us."

The settlement marks the end of a bitter final chapter between the school and Pitino, who has repeatedly said he knew nothing about payments made to the family of a recruit to sign with Louisville. Pitino was not named in the federal complaint.

Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the bribery probe and placed the Hall of Fame coach on unpaid administrative leave, which Pitino alleged came without notice and no legally justified cause.

Pitino also said he was unaware of the preceding 2015 sex scandal that cost Louisville its 2013 NCAA championship. The NCAA ordered the vacation of 123 victories, including the Cardinals' third national title and their 2012 Final Four appearance, following an escort's allegations that former staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

The school acknowledged Pitino's success and commitment to his players in a joint statement that thanked him for his service. But it also reiterated infractions under his watch that led to "serious consequences" for Louisville.

"Although these infractions may not have occurred at Coach Pitino's discretion or with his knowledge," the statement said, "the problems leading to the NCAA infractions happened under his leadership. ... Coach Pitino and the University of Louisville have mutually agreed to dismiss their legal claims against each other, designate his departure as a resignation, and move forward."

Pitino coached Panathinaikos to the championship in the Greek League in June.

UConn men's coach Hurley back at work after spinal surgery

HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut men's basketball coach Dan Hurley says he spent his life believing that when it came to his health, he was bulletproof.

But that was before being told by doctors in August that he had a degenerative spinal condition that could have left him paralyzed.

Hurley returned to work full time Wednesday, less than two weeks after having surgery to replace two disks in his neck with artificial ones. He expects to make a full recovery, but says as health scares go, this was terrifying.

"I started worrying and having a lot of anxiety about my health and my ability to get back to being myself," he said. "You start playing worst-case scenarios in your head."

Hurley said doctors told him the condition was part hereditary and part a result of years of the wear and tear associated with being a life-long athlete.

He said he was hoping to deal with the discomfort and tingling he was feeling through physical therapy or maybe an injection, but doctors quickly told him that he needed immediate surgery and that any hard fall or bump could leave him paralyzed.

He had the surgery on Sept. 6, with the doctor using an incision in his throat to get to his spine. He said he was told that for experts, it's a relatively routine procedure.

The 46-year-old coach said he felt better immediately, but still has some restrictions for the next month, such as being prohibited from flying or lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds.

Hurley, known for his animated coaching style, said he's kept recruits informed and is very confident the situation won't have any long-term effects on his ability to do his job the way he always has done it.

But, he said the first major health issue has changed his perspective on life.

"How important my faith is to me was reinforced; how important my family is to me was reinforced," he said. "And just how important I am to my players, to not just succeed and excel in their careers. My true sense and purpose as a coach came into much clearer focus for me."

His players gave him a warm welcome back on Wednesday. He said that meant a lot to him, but didn't make him go any easier on them.

"Any of like that feeling sorry for me or good will toward the coach returning from injury went out the door when I got on guys for their lack of defensive prowess," he said. "Yeah, all that love is gone."

UConn opens its season Nov. 8 against Sacred Heart.

Virginia's Bennett declines raise, asks for staff pay hike

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia men's basketball coach Tony Bennett has declined a pay raise offered by the school and instead asked school officials for additional compensation for his staff and program improvement.

University officials said in a news release Monday that Bennett did sign a one-year contract extension, but instead of a pay hike for himself, the coach asked athletic director Carla Williams to focus his staff and the program. The release also stated that Bennett and his wife also made a $500,000 contribution toward a career-development program for current and former players.

It is unclear how much of a raise Bennett declined.

Bennett earned nearly $6 million last season and received a $1 million retention bonus. The extension means Bennett is under contract with the school for the next seven years.

"I have more than enough," Bennett said in the release, adding that the gift was his wife's idea. "If there are ways that this can help out the athletic department, the other programs and coaches, by not tying up so much (in men's basketball), that's my desire."

Williams said coaches turning down raises "just does not happen in our industry."

The Cavaliers won their first national championship in April with an overtime victory against Texas Tech. The run to the championship came a year after Virginia made NCAA Tournament history by losing to UMBC and becoming the first top-seeded team to lose to a 16th-seeded team.

Bennett's record in his 10 years at Virginia is 254-89 and includes seven NCAA Tournament appearances and one trip to the NIT.

School President Jim Ryan lauded Bennett for his humility, and Bennett and his wife for their generosity.

"Tony's decision — to turn down a well-deserved raise and instead invest in his players and UVA athletics more broadly — tells you everything you need to know about him as a leader and as a human being," Ryan said. "Tony is one of the most selfless people I've ever met, and this is just the latest example."

-- By Hank Kurz Jr., AP

North Carolina State gives hoops coach Kevin Keatts 2-year extension

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State has approved a two-year contract extension for men's basketball coach Kevin Keatts.

The deal announced Friday by the school keeps Keatts under contract through the 2025-26 season. The financial terms remain the same, meaning Keatts will continue to make $2.7 million per year.

The 47-year-old Keatts is 45-24 in two seasons at North Carolina State and led the Wolfpack to the NCAA Tournament in 2018. They missed the tournament last year after finishing 24-12 and playing in the NIT.

The school awarded him a new contract last November that increased his annual pay by $400,000.

New athletic director Boo Corrigan calls Keatts "a tremendous leader for N.C. State," credits him for bringing consistency to the program and says he "does it the right way."