It’s been a whirlwind past couple of weeks for Richard Pitino. As he gets acclimated to his new job as the Gophers men’s basketball coach, he chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand on Monday on a number of subjects:
Q It’s been about a week on the job. What has stood out to you so far?
A The thing that stood out to me the most is the love for the University of Minnesota and all the programs. It’s very unique. … This is the first place I’ve worked where [fans] love every single sport and are passionate about it. … It’s impressive, the pride of this place.
Q When the Minnesota job first became a reality, as in it could happen, what was going through your head?
A My wife [Jill] and I would always joke. We’d sit in the house in Miami and say, “where are we going to raise Ava, our daughter?” I always said, “Jill, you will never be able to predict what’s next.” Sure enough, the Minnesota opportunity comes up. It was a great opportunity in a special place with a special fan base and a great university with a great AD in Norwood Teague. When the opportunity came, I ran with it. … I think she’s excited now because we can have some stability. She’s excited about that. As an assistant coach, you never know where you might turn. At Florida International, it was great, they were great to us, but you never knew if an opportunity would present itself. She’s excited to establish a life here. I’m excited to settle down and build a life here.
Q This team is coming off an NCAA tournament berth and a victory over UCLA. That said, some key pieces are missing. What are your expectations for next year?
A My expectations are that I am hoping to develop a culture of hard, hard work. My expectations are that these guys get better every single day, that they do the right things in the classroom and on campus. My expectations are the kids get better and I can establish my brand. It’s really hard when you take over a job to set goals from wins and losses. Certainly Coach [Tubby] Smith established a lot of great things here. But I’m not going to look at wins and losses in year one.
Q Does it worry you that Tubby Smith had a certain level of accomplishment here and that it still wasn’t enough for Norwood Teague to retain him?
A No, because we have a lot of things we can reference back on that Coach Smith did. What would worry me is if he never won any games or didn’t go to the [NCAA] tournament. Coach Smith showed you can do it. We have a lot of things to be proud of.
Q But that wasn’t enough for Smith to keep his job.
A Coaches don’t think that way. I think they get excited about what could be and the potential of this place. When you get a great athletic director … the sky is the limit. Norwood Teague is going to take us to that. I really believe it.
Q You brought up practice facility in your introductory press conference and you downplayed it, but how important will that be here eventually?
A I’d say this: I’ve recruited at Louisville and Florida, and they’ve had practice facilities. And I don’t think one kid has come because of a practice facility. When the time comes and we get it, it will probably help my life in the fact that it will be easier. But guys aren’t going to come here because of a practice facility. Guys are going to come here because of the conference — best in the country. Great fan base? One of the best in the country. A great university? Certainly one of the best in the country. And then they’re going to come because of me and my staff. All those [facilities] are nice, but that’s not what’s going to build a program.