David Padgett is in no position to make promises. He is a first-year coach with no guarantee of a second season.
His recruiting pitch for the University of Louisville, then, is necessarily vague, contingent on the inexact timetables and imprecise aims of interim bosses. It entails selling a school without a permanent president or athletic director, with one set of NCAA sanctions pending and another one probable.
He is selling a vision that is hard to see.
“It’s a unique situation,” Padgett said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s different, pretty unprecedented. You just have to make the most of it.
“Right now, the biggest hurdle we have to clear from a recruiting standpoint is who’s going to be the head coach moving forward after this season. And obviously we don’t know the answer to that.”
Padgett has won seven of his first nine games since Pitino was placed on administrative leave in late September, and he has generally performed with distinction under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Yet while the interests of continuity and short-term recruiting might be best served by making Padgett’s interim position permanent, the opportunity to hire a more established coach and Louisville’s overriding interest in filling seats could leave the program in limbo for several more months.
Unless interim athletic director Vince Tyra is prepared to entrust Padgett with a program that has been the leading revenue-producer in college hoops, or inclined to hire an out-of-work coach such as Tom Crean, Louisville may be lucky to land its next coach before late spring. And the longer he waits, the larger the toll on Louisville recruiting.
Already, New Albany wunderkind Romeo Langford has sliced U of L from his short list. Already, Trinity High School’s David Johnson and two nationally ranked guards, Anfernee Simons and Courtney Ramey, have withdrawn verbal commitments made during Pitino’s tenure.
“From a recruiting standpoint, there are so many things that could or could not impact a recruit,” Padgett said. “The situations are so different, but the biggest thing is who’s going to be the head coach. We can’t answer that. Everyone understands the situation when we talk to recruits and so on and so forth. They get it. It’s just about us selling the brand, trying to lay the groundwork of Louisville basketball and what it will be moving forward.”
What it can be is a consistent championship contender. What it will be, at least for the foreseeable future, is a program in need of clear direction and swift justice. For even after the McGee/Powell mess is resolved, the alleged payment scheme behind the recruitment of Brian Bowen poses an additional threat further complicated by Louisville’s status as a repeat offender.
What high-profile prospect or proven coach would be willing to sign on amid so much uncertainty?
What might make the most sense is to keep David Padgett in place for the sake of stability, at least until the clouds disperse.
“Regardless of who’s here, Louisville is still going to be Louisville,” he said. “It’s been a tradition-rich, storied program for 30-40 years now. Our hope and my hope is that doesn’t change moving forward.
“We play in the most spectacular arena in the world. We have the best fan base in the world. I’m biased, but that’s what I believe. It doesn’t matter who’s standing on the sidelines coaching the team because at the end of the day the name on the front of the jersey is still the name on the front.”
The identity of the coach matters mightily to recruits. The sooner Louisville can identify him, the better.