A special thanks to C.L. Brown, the Louisville beat writer at the Louisville Courier Journal, who helped me out tremendously by getting these great quotes.
As with any unexpected (at least on our end) hiring, things move fast and furious.
We still haven’t met Richard Pitino yet – that will come at 9:00 tomorrow morning in a news conference inside Williams Arena. One theme, however, has permeated quickly, and that’s the obvious one: his age.
Young Pitino is just 30 years old. That’s the youngest in Minnesota since 1897, when the Gophers hired their first men’s basketball coach. Bill Musselman, hired in the early 70s, was about a month older.
We all know 30 is awfully young. What were you doing at 30? Struggling to get your career going? Eating a steady diet of mac & cheese? Spending your weekends on the couch watching older, seemingly more mature coaches lead your favorite hoops team?
If you believe what has been pounded into the media lately, 30 is the new 20.
So is he too young? Is Pitino – with just one season of head coaching experience prior -- too raw for this challenge?
His father, for one, says ‘No.’
“I actually don't,” Rick Pitino told media at a Final Four access on Thursday. Pitino hired his son as an assistant first, and then later as an associate head coach. “He is more than ready. I drove him harder than I drove Billy [Donovan, the head coach at Florida, where the younger Pitino also did a stint as an assistant]. So he is more than ready. What he did at Florida International I never thought anybody could do. He took walk-ons, eight new players, he turned around a bad academic situation and won 18 games and was a bucket away from going to the NCAA his first year. So he is ready to coach. I feel bad that I drove him that hard, now I'm happy I did.”
The elder Pitino said he was not previously familiar with athletic director Norwood Teague, and had not been the one to originally make the recommendation for his son for the Minnesota job – that distinction goes to Donovan, who has fed Teague and right-hand man Mike Ellis two other assistants for head coaching jobs in Anthony Grant and Shaka Smart when the administrators were at VCU. But he was happy to pipe in.
“I put in a call and said I would not second that recommendation if I didn't think he could not only succeed, but do great things,” Pitino said. “I just told him I don't know anything about the athletic directors. The assistant or head. I said give me 24 hours and I'll have the answers and after checking it out, I just got the most glowing report about all of them. They were all at VCU when they hired Shaka. Billy recommended Shaka. I heard great things about how they support their coaches. That's all I needed to hear.”
He was on a phone call Wednesday when he received a text from his son saying: "Everything’s great. Call me. Go Gophers!"
“I just had to get off the phone,” Rick said. “I rushed off a very important phone call to get on the phone with him. And my wife and I just hugged and we're just very proud.”
Two other quick notes of worth:
- Florida International athletic director Pete Garcia confirmed that Pitino would be bringing FIU assistant Kimani Young with him to Minnesota. He has spoken with other former staff of his as well, and could potentially be bringing others.
- According to Garcia, Minnesota first reached out to Pitino on Monday. The young coach was very excited about the prospect but didn’t think he would get the job, Garcia said. When the Rutgers job became available, Pitino had already interviewed with Minnesota, and had told Garcia that if he was going to take any job, he was going to take the Minnesota job.