No Rick Pitino, No Problem: Rick Potato Gets His 15 Minutes At ACC Media Day

rick pitino potato
Getty / Martin Rickman

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Who is Rick Potato? Like most stories, it’s best to start from the beginning.

We’ve all been there. Autocorrect can strike at a moment’s notice. Sometimes at the worst times. A text message gone awry. A tweet that needs to be deleted, hopefully before it gets screengrabbed and remembered forever. A professional email with one extremely inconvenient word.

For me, autocorrect turned into a really silly joke. While I was sitting at the ACC Tournament, I composed a tweet about Rick Pitino, but it autocorrected Pitino to Potato. Which, considering the alternative – Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal says his phone still changes Pitino to Petrino, the dangers of previously being on that two-sport beat – isn’t so bad. Then my poor photoshop skills came into play.

It’s haunting. It’s a little dumb. It’s an extremely literal joke that is kind of funny. In other words, it’s my sense of humor to a T. I made the joke and forgot about it, moving on to other pressing matters like how much Mike Brey looks like Dan Aykroyd’s character from Tommy Boy. 

But when all the stuff with Louisville started, something popped back into my head: Rick Potato.

When it was announced that Pitino would not be attending ACC Media Day, I made an offhand comment I typically make that I usually reserve for an open coaching jobs – that I’d do it instead, and be happy to do so.

This was something I fully planned on doing until late Tuesday night around 3 a.m., when I decided to combine two pretty bad ideas into one still-kind-of-bad idea. Why not have Coach Potato show up instead?

I took the only potato I had – a sweet potato – and drew a crude face on it. The result? The real, live Rick Potato.

And then it was his time to shine.

Was it immature? Sure, to some extent. But it was harmless and fun and rooted (sorry, bad potato pun) in playfulness. This wasn’t about the scandal. It wasn’t about showing anyone up. It wasn’t about making a mockery of the ACC or of media days in general. It’s about absurdity.

And honestly, is a potato with a face and a necktie making the media day rounds any less absurd than a coach refusing to attend at the request of counsel and sending two fifth-year transfers as human shields instead?

That’s not to say it wasn’t ultimately the right or necessary decision for Pitino. Only he knows what he’s been told and what he is supposed to do. But as many folks have written, it wasn’t a good look for him, or the league, when Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams both fielded questions about their respective scandals at ACC Media Day last year. Not to mention the placards at every table in the media work room praising “four of the six winningest coaches in college basketball” being in the league, with Mike Krzyzewski’s face joined by Williams, Boeheim, and Pitino.

This is nothing against the two fifth-year guys – Trey Lewis came from Cleveland State and Damion Lee previously played at Drexel – who handled themselves amazingly well. That’s a lot of scrutiny for two players who have never been to a Media Day scrum quite like the ACC’s, and especially not one in which they had to field questions they knew very little about. There’s no context for them. There’s also almost no way for them to slip up and say something they shouldn’t. If anything, we should be praising two guys who were genuinely elated to be there, and in most other circumstances could’ve talked about their hopes for the season, their passions in life, and their love of the game.

Through it all, Coach Potato stayed silent. He had as much to say at the Ritz-Carlton in Uptown Charlotte as the noticeably absent Pitino. The chair that was reserved for Pitino during the portion of the day he was scheduled to attend was empty, with no name card present at the adjacent table while coaches from Clemson, UNC, Florida State and Notre Dame spoke during their allotted time instead.

Consider it relatively brilliant by Louisville to send those two in the first place, but that takes away from just how well Lewis and Lee did under the spotlight. They were forthcoming, honest, personable, and they smiled the whole way. Lewis mentioned the journal he keeps every day. Lee talked about his upcoming mixtape and mentioned a tattoo he got two years ago which reads, “My gift is my curse.”

“I feel that my gift is my curse so it can be used in really any reference,” Lee said on Wednesday. “Me being blessed as a Division I athlete, people can be like, ‘Oh it’s because he’s tall’ not knowing I graduated high school with a 3.0. I would’ve been accepted at almost any Division I school, almost anywhere. People try to take what you have and turn it and make it into a negative. For me, I just look at it as I’m blessed with this. Other people could think it’s a curse, but for me, it’s a blessing.”

Lee’s – and Lewis’ – blessing and curse is to be donning that Louisville uniform with the cloud of uncertainty surrounding that program heading into this season. And it’s up to them what they make of it. I could just put the potato back in the bag when the day was over and go back to the real world. For the Cardinals, it’s far from that simple.