Ralph Willard is taking a leave of absence as a University of Louisville assistant basketball coach, ostensibly for health reasons.

Ralph Willard. He's back again.
Ralph Willard. 

In addition to being an assistant, Willard is one of Rick Pitino’s closest friends and most trusted advisors. The timing is curious, coming  just 10 days after a local prostitute levied accusations in an e-book against the program.

Willard, who is 69, could well have some medical issues. He also could have decided that he didn’t want to be around while an NCAA investigation was occurring, aggravating any health concerns he may have.

Willard gave up a comfortable retirement in Bonita Springs, Fla., this year to hook up for another stint with his old friend. He had served with Pitino on the New York Knicks’ staff from 1987 to 1989, at the University of Kentucky for a coupe of years during the early nineties, and at UofL from 2009 to 2010.

Willard’s son, Kevin, was an assistant coach at UofL from 2001 to 2007 before taking the head coaching job at Seton Hall, It was Kevin, remember, who stood in for him when Pitino had that mysterious illness in 2004, went off to the Cleveland Clinic, and returned after missing a couple of games. A few years later, Pitino presented Kevin with a Rolex watch when he brought his Seton Hall team to Freedom Hall.

Anything negative that happens to UofL basketball is going to be painstakingly second-guessed until this NCAA ordeal is over several months from now. Ralph Willard and Rick Pitino have gone through a lot together. It’s difficult to imagine one of them bailing out when the water gets a little choppy.

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By Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.