Rick Pitino Says He’s Sorry for Harshly Criticizing St. John’s Players and Coaches

Apparently it was all his fault the whole time

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 10: Head coach Rick Pitino of the St. John's Red Storm reacts during the first half against the Marquette Golden Eagles at Fiserv Forum on February 10, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Head coach Rick Pitino of St. John's hasn't enjoyed his first season at the helm.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Rick Pitino is no stranger to two things: winning and controversy. His basketball team at St. John’s University hasn’t done much of the first thing this season, his inaugural year in charge of the program in his birth city. That fact propelled him toward the second thing.

This past Sunday, the Red Storm blew a 19-point lead against Seton Hall in a loss that all but destroyed the team’s shot at an NCAA National Championship Tournament birth. The defeat proved something of a breaking point for Pitino, and in a postgame news conference he let his frustrations shine.

“This has been the most unenjoyable experience I’ve had since I’ve been coaching,” he said, per ESPN. “Our lateral quickness and our toughness is just something I’ve never witnessed in all my years of coaching. We are so nonathletic that we can’t guard anybody without fouling [and] really it’s not about losing. Even winning, when I watch the film, I see unathletic plays, I see people that don’t handle the ball, that are just interested in taking quick shots. It’s been a disappointing year.”

He was just getting started.

“I think the other team makes adjustments and we have to make adjustments to move the basketball and take good shots. But we just lack toughness,” Pitino said. “We just don’t move our feet on defense…I look at it pragmatically. We are small, we are slow laterally, we don’t shoot the ball great and we don’t play great defense because of those shortcomings. These are the weaknesses…outside of that, we’re pretty good.”

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He called out players by name for poor performances across the season and cited unfortunate timing around his hiring as a reason why his staff was not able to sign the players he wanted. Though he didn’t place blame on the university for the squad’s poor record, which stood at 14-12 overall but just 6-9 in the Big East, he did note that St. John’s has “shit facilities.”

A day later, he doubled down on the remarks, saying he wasn’t “ripping” anybody but sending his team a message through the press. But then the other night, after beating Georgetown, Pitino sang a much different tune.

“These guys have never failed me,” Pitino said, per USA Today. “I have failed them with the fundamentals.”

He said he apologized to the team after hearing that some players’ feelings were hurt. “Words matter. It’s my bad. I’m at fault,” he said. “I should’ve never mentioned anybody by name. I didn’t mean it.”

He described himself as “a veteran coach” who tells other young coaches to “show class when you win; show class when you lose; give the other team credit.” Finally, he laid the blame for the program’s recruitment woes on himself. “It was all me, and I’m really, really proud to have [these players],” he said.

Per The Athletic, one of the players he mentioned by name as a personal recruit of his, Jordan Dingle, said, “We know how much he loves and cares for us and how much he cares about winning, so I don’t think guys took it too much to heart.”

That passion for winning has carried Pitino to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. As a head coach in the college ranks (he’s also fronted NBA teams), he’s made 23 NCAA Tournament appearances with five different schools, getting all the way to the Final Four a total of seven times, something only five other coaches have ever done. “Pitino became the first coach to take three different schools to the Final Four and the first coach to win an NCAA Championship at two different schools,” notes the St. John’s University website. “Off the court, he has served as a charitable benefactor for a broad spectrum of worthy causes, often choosing to do so anonymously.”

Outside the lines, he’s also behaved disreputably at times. The NCAA investigated him for improprieties way back in the 1970s, and it would be far from the last time the governing body would do so. His Louisville Cardinals national championship of 2013 was vacated by the NCAA after a self-described madam said she was paid thousands of dollars to provide women to dance for and have sex with Cardinals players.

The school also suspended Pitino five games for his lack of oversight and would later fire him over another scandal when, in October 2017, the FBI alleged a Louisville player’s family was paid $100,000 upon his commitment to the school. Though he said his dismissal was justified, Pitino denied knowledge of the exchange and, after a five-year investigation, he was exonerated in the pay-for-play case. In an episode of more personal consequence, he was the target of an extortion attempt by a woman named Karen Sypher in 2009. She was sentenced to prison for the offense, but it was revealed that Pitino and Sypher engaged in a sexual affair, resulting in a pregnancy. Both Pitino and Sypher were married, the latter having been betrothed to Pitino’s team equipment manager.

Hopefully, with Pitino’s apology and Dingle’s remarks of appreciation for him, St. John’s can experience more of the winning Pitino likes and less of the controversy that repeatedly surrounds him.

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