Thursday, April 03, 2008

Well said, Coach Pitino

I've been watching the memorial service to Bill Keightley but there's something that I want to say. I forgive former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino for taking the position with the University of Lousville Cardinals. Here's the video:

I echo Matt's comments at KSR.

Kentucky fans, please--for our sake--forgive Coach Pitino for going to Louisville. You don't have to root for the Cardinals but appreciate what the guy did for us.

UK Athletics has the transcripts available. Here is Coach Pitino's speech in it's entirety:

I look around and so many great thoughts go through all of our minds. When I met Mr. Bill I said, ‘Where do you sit at the games?’ I knew where he sat though, but I wasn’t sure if it was the last seat or a seat behind it. He said, ‘I sit toward the end of the bench.’ Then I said, ‘Sit next to me. Because I have a bad temper and I don’t want to get technical fouls. I don’t think these people in the south trust northerners.’ He said, ‘Coach, I don’t belong up there. That is for coaches.’ I said, ‘From this point on, you are a coach. You make sure every time I get up and cross that box, you stop me and don’t let me get a technical foul.’ So, he sat there, thinking he had a new job on the horizon. The second game of the season, he put his arms up and said, ‘Don’t take a step forward coach.’ I said, ‘If you don’t sit down, you’re going to be one dead man.’ That was the last time he tried to stop me from getting a technical foul.

I look around here with so many great memories and I think the greatest accomplishment I had here was moving him to his rightful place, from the foot of the bench to the head of the bench. We all cry and we all laugh, and for Karen and Hazel, they will go home with the longest memories of all of us.

I learned a long time ago, experiencing certain tragedies, that it was different for me. My side of the family is Italian and my wife is half Irish. I went to wakes and learned it was very different for the Italian side of the family. It was crying hysterically and almost jumping into the grave site. On the Irish side of the family, all they were doing was telling stories, drinking beer and having a great time. After experiencing both sides of the family on numerous occasions, I wanted to be Irish for the first time in my life. Today, I really want to be Irish because I cry and hurt inside for a great friend.

Last week I sat outside some place called ‘Boardwalk Billy’s’ in Charlotte, N.C., very nervous for the basketball game. Vinny Tatum told me that Bill was coming to the game and I couldn’t fathom it or believe it. As I sat outside, I saw Bill walking across the bridge to ‘Boardwalk Billy’s’. It was the strangest thing because he was the last person I thought I’d see at a Louisville NCAA game. I know first hand, it doesn’t matter where I work, that he hated Louisville. The most difficult thing I had to do when I came back was call the players and get their approval. The last phone call I had to make was to Mr. Bill. I said, ‘Mr. Bill, you’re not going to believe this. But, I think I’m going to come back to the state and coach at Louisville.” There was dead silence on the phone and he said, ‘Have you damn lost your mind son?’ I said, ‘No, Mr. Bill, I really miss the state and things haven’t gone well for me in Boston.’ He said again, ‘Son, have you damn lost your mind?’ I did. When Mr. Bill was walking across the bridge, I thought about that phone call. He gave me a big hug and he said, ‘You’re going to beat Tennessee, then you’re going to get even with North Carolina for that Kansas game that first year. You’re going to win it all.’ He pointed to his 1996 Championship ring and said, ‘I want another one of these.’ I walked back to my room, fully knowing that Mr. Bill wanted a Louisville championship ring, but not really. He was just telling me that he cared for me, loved me and wanted me to win that championship as a coach, because that’s what he was all about.

He is the ambassador of Kentucky and he loved the University of Kentucky more than life itself. He knew about loyalty and he knew about friendships. Karen was the apple of his eye, and Hazel the woman he was in love with. Kentucky was the most important thing in his life.

It’s always been tough coming into Rupp Arena because of the great memories I have. But I don’t think it will ever be as tough as it is today. Because, not only was he someone we all looked up to, he was a great friend and a great person. When Cawood Ledford left, we lost a soul at the University of Kentucky and now we have lost a heart. For me, it was the last link I had with this great place.

For all of us, we need to be Irish tonight. All of us need to think of Mr. Bill and celebrate his life. Because, after all, when you describe a great athlete and basketball player, it’s someone that not only statistically shows his greatness, it’s someone who makes everybody better with their presence on the court. The power forward becomes a better rebounder, the point guard becomes a better passer, all because of that great athlete on the court, because their presence makes everyone better. Just think about that great athlete, making others better in life, making others better on the court. Who better than Mr. Bill? I don’t think I would have ever had the fun or the joy, if it wasn’t for that man sitting to my right. He is a true God-send and we will miss him terribly.

Tonight I will wipe away the tears, and though I’m not a big drinker and I could never drink bourbon, I’m going to start drinking bourbon, for the rest of my life in your honor. I don’t know what you liked about it because I tried it once, but I’m going to start trying a small bit of it. I’ll truly celebrate Mr. Bill. We’re all the luckiest people on earth because we got to hang around a treasure for a short period of time. Karen and Hazel, you’re the luckiest of us all. You got to spend the most time with him. We all got cheated and you got the gift of a lifetime. Thank you.

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