The past three weeks have been a whirlwind of activity for the Gophers men’s basketball program. The team went to the NCAA tournament, coach Tubby Smith was fired, and then a nine-day search culminated in the hiring of Smith’s replacement, Richard Pitino. Athletic director Norwood Teague sat down with Star Tribune college basketball beat writer Amelia Rayno on Thursday to discuss some of what happened along the way, and to take a look at what’s ahead for the Gophers.
Q People have reported that you spoke with Florida coach Billy Donovan and he recommended Pitino to you. Had you looked at Pitino before speaking with Donovan?
A Richard was always on my list. I was going to talk to Billy no matter what. … But Richard was always on our list and our list was pretty tight. I will say this, after sitting down with Richard, I knew within 15 minutes that he was our guy. It was much like when I talked to Shaka [Smart] when I was at VCU.
Q Did you talk to him before you talked to Billy?
A I’ve got to be real honest. I can’t remember the time frame. I really can’t. And I don’t want to say something that’s going to get you confused or me confused in the process.
Q It has been reported that you offered Flip Saunders the job but set down some requirements as far as choosing his staff that he didn’t like. Is that how it went?
A I read the other day about [Saunders wanting to hire his son, Ryan, and I refused] — and that was not the case. … I always will monitor and help and weigh in, but rarely would I ever put my foot down and tell somebody that they can’t hire someone.
Q Did you have a No. 1 candidate on the search?
A No. I had some people that certainly I was intrigued by and I had a lot of information on some new directions that I wanted to go, but I wouldn’t say that we had a clear No. 1.
Q Were you close to hiring anyone in the first couple of days of the search?
A There were a lot of things reported that we would offer people that we hadn’t offered and we were close when we weren’t close. It was more of a planned-out, methodical process that played itself out to where we wanted to land.
Q Did you make any promises to Pitino regarding a practice facility?
A We talked about it and we told him that we were going through a facility plan and what our aspirations were and he was perfectly content about what I told him. There was no guarantee of a timeline, but he felt very good about it and it was a great conversation.
Q What expectations do you have for him in his first season?
A He asked me that question, and what I’ve told him is I want someone who is managing the program at the highest level, someone who is showing progress in recruiting and leading the players in the right way. I’m not going to put a wins-and-losses metric on him.
Q This is your first major hire at a big program. Are you ready to have your legacy sort of judged by this?
A I don’t look at it that way. I try to put blinders on and focus on what we’re doing. It’s not about me — it’s about the University of Minnesota and our athletic program. And I’m going to do my best every day to work my fingers to the bone to make it work and be excellent.
Q At the same time you know you will always be tied to this, the way Joel Maturi was tied to Tim Brewster.
A That’s the nature of what we do. If I focused on that, it would drive me crazy, literally. I will make better decisions if I focus on what we have in front of us than if I focus on myself, whatever that means.
Q Now that this is over, are you going to look at the women’s basketball program equally hard?
A I evaluate our programs constantly. This is not going to cause me to look at any other program differently. Every other program has different situations and we are constantly evaluating them and trying to help improve them every day.