Rick Pitino may or may not be headed to Louisville. But he won”t set foot in the Bluegrass State if campus crusader Joe Johnson has his druthers.
Pitino has announced his intent to give Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich a decision by tomorrow, citing a desire to be fair to the school that has courted him heavily over the past three weeks.
Johnson isn”t waiting to find out if Michigan will have a crack at the former NCAA champion. He”s organized a massive effort to show Pitino personally that Ann Arbor should be his final destination.
With the help of Dan Klemppner, Jennifer Krzeszak and Jason Witler, Johnson spent yesterday in the Diag, in the residence halls, at the IM Building and anywhere else with foot traffic.
The fruits of their labor after 10 hours in 50-degree weather: Approximately 3,000 signatures from Michigan students to be forwarded to the decision-maker, the man in charge.
Not athletic director Bill Martin, who spoke to Pitino on Sunday. Pitino himself.
Johnson managed to reach Pitino by phone yesterday and the two had a short conversation. Johnson relayed to the coach what he was in the process of accomplishing, and asked if Pitino would be willing to receive copies of the signed petitions via fax.
Pitino, surprised by this unexpected call, agreed. Johnson promised to send the mass of paperwork out by the end of the night a task that could make Kinko”s salivate.
“He was very surprised to hear that he had that kind of support here at the University,” Johnson said. “He was very warm and receptive to the idea.
“He was really honored, more than anything.”
It was a low-budget campaign. Headquarters was a folding table in the center of the Diag. The volunteers were compensated only by the realization of their vision. If not for Krzeszak, Johnson”s girlfriend, the troops would have gone hungry.
Grassroots activism, at its best. Sure, the U.S.”s position in the Vietnam War wasn”t the cause of the conflict, nor was affirmative action. This is different. This is college basketball.
Don”t mention the names of Kelvin Sampson, Tom Crean, Skip Prosser, Ben Braun or Gary Waters to Johnson. There is one and only one man he wants to see on the north bench of Crisler Arena next season.
“If you think about it, we”ve had a couple bad incidents at the university,” Johnson said. Pitino “will try to restore the integrity. He”s a proven winner, and the bottom line is he”s the right guy for the job.”
Upon the mention of the idea, Johnson said he might forward the petition sheets to Martin the man who will ultimately make the call despite a job search that makes one wonder who”s in charge.
The groundswell still has time. Johnson”s gang isn”t through yet. They”ll be on campus today, finishing their task, doing more than their share to protect the future of Michigan basketball. A pro-Pitino rally at some point during the day is a possibility.
“My faith in humanity is restored,” Klemppner said. “People are willing to help for a good cause.”
The group will take whatever help it can get a slice of Backroom, a can of Coke. More importantly, your signature.
Chris Duprey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.