The Gophers' coaching search barely lasted a week. No, honestly. They fired Tubby Smith last Monday, and they came to an agreement with Richard Pitino on Wednesday. It felt like months, but it was really just a handful of days. Now that the short but twisty path has arrived at Pitino -- who, at 30, is roughly a month younger than Bill Musselman was when he took over the Gophers in the early 1970s. Pitino has only been a head coach for one year, but he impressively took Florida International to its first winning season since 1999-2000 and navigated the program out of the shambles Isiah Thomas left it in. He also has assistant stops at many locations already, including five years combined at Louisville and Florida. Let's take a look at five quick questions when it comes to Pitino and whether he will succeed here:
1) Has he paid his dues? Some coach's kids ride the coattails of success and never learn hard work on their own. Others are driven to be just as good or better than their old man. We can't say definitively which one Pitino is, but it appears to be the latter. After watching Richard Pitino’s rise, Billy Donovan told the Palm Beach Post: “His dad made him start from the ground floor and work his way up. He wasn’t a guy that was just given a silver spoon and went right out of college into a high-major coaching position.” Indeed. He was a student manager at Providence. He was an assistant coach at a high school. He worked low-level administrative jobs. He was an assistant coach at Northeastern and Duquesne. Combined with the experience at Florida and Louisville as well as head coaching at FIU, he has the resume of someone five years older.
2) Can he recruit the Midwest? Tubby Smith did well outside the area, landing Austin/Andre Hollins from Memphis and Ralph Sampson III, a prized recruit at the time, from Georgia. But with a ton of great recruits in Minnesota and nearby western Wisconsin in 2014 and 2015, Pitino will also need to work his way into the local scene quickly. Pretty much every job he has had so far has had an East Coast bent to it. Louisville is the only one that's even borderline. You could call Louisville either North, South, East or Midwest depending on where you live.
3) Will current players buy into what he's selling? Let's not forget that while Tubby Smith wasn't perfect, his squad did make the NCAA round of 32. Hollins (x2) and other talented players return. It's important for Pitino to gain their trust quickly. This isn't a rebuild. It's a build higher -- unless there are mass transfers, in which case it is a rebuild. We could imagine Andre Hollins, in particular, flourishing in an up-tempo system, which Pitino should bring.
4) Will he energize the fan base and donor base enough to get facilities built? The best argument for a coach like Flip Saunders, other than experience, is it was suggested he would be the easiest path to short-term revitalization of the donor base, thus helping build crucial facilities such as a practice gym. Pitino, a youngster coming from the outside, doesn't bring that immediate jolt, so he'll have to win folks by demonstrating a new energy and enthusiasm.
5) If he does all these things and turns the Gophers into a Big Ten contender, will he bolt? Rick Pitino was only at Providence two years, the latter being a Final Four season, before he left. Is this Richard's Providence? We'll cross that bridge when we get there, but he clearly doesn't mind moving from job to job. That said, it would be a nice problem to have.