I just finished my Sunday story (which will be online later tonight) -- and so it officially marks the end of the coaching search for me.
Quite the experience. Now I have a few leftover thoughts from the whirlwind.
Many of you have been asking what I think of the new coach, Richard Pitino. As of now, I have a lot of the same information you have: I’ve watched and heard him at the press conference, but I haven’t met him one-on-one yet. I’ve spoken to a lot of people that are close with him, and shared a lot of their thoughts with you as well. I’ve looked deeper into his past, read about his accomplishments, considered his age and experience; all the things that most of you probably did as soon as his name came up.
Of course, the real judgment – from everyone – will come next season, when we start to see how he executes the transition from FIU and the Sun Belt to the Gophers and the Big Ten.
But for now, my thought is this:
This is exactly what Minnesota needs right now. The Gophers are not only getting a fresh set of eyes on a program that has had trouble breaking out of the sticky trend of early success and late flops recently, they are getting someone who has the reputation of being full of energy -- a tireless worker, a relentless recruiter and someone who admittedly “live[s], breathe[s], eat[s], sleep[s] basketball.”
He has a good pedigree. He seems to have good instincts. He knows how to make an impression.
I can’t tell you whether Pitino will actually succeed in bringing the Gophers to the next level, whether he’ll be able to turn them into a perennial competitor in the Big Ten. I can’t guarantee you that he’ll win 20 games every season, as Tubby Smith did in five of his six years at Minnesota. I can’t promise he won’t disappoint, or that he’ll be the guy that Norwood Teague hopes he’ll be and that the fans are breathlessly awaiting for him to be.
But I do belive this: If Pitino ultimately fails – and I’m not talking about immediately because next year could be tough no matter what – it won’t be because he didn’t give it his all.
That Pitino will give it his all -- that is what I don't doubt.
As the University of Minnesota, then, how do you not go that direction? Fans of every program want to believe that their school is such that every great coach would love to come and be a part of it. It doesn't always work that way. Minnesota doesn’t have the same tradition and history as some schools do. It certainly doesn’t have the facilities and the perks. The recruiting ground, while improving, stil doesn't have the reputation for an overflow of talent. And yet still, even in arguably the toughest league in America, there is incredible pressure -- and a quick trigger if you don’t produce.
Guys like Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens, as I’ve been saying all along, were pipe dreams. Coming to Minnesota doesn't make any sense.
But a guy like Pitino – someone whose stock is still low, but ceiling is high – is the best kind of hire Minnesota could hope to make, in my opinion. There are plenty of characteristics with him (his work ethic, his immediate background, his experience, his mentors, his obvious maturity, his intellect) that make it likely that he will do well.
If it doesn’t pan out, well, the concept was still smart. The buyout (and salary) is smaller than it would have been with any coach that has been sitting in a head job for longer. If it does work out, the Gophers look like geniuses.
In the end, it was a risky move. But it was the kind of risk a smart businessman should take, every time.
We had a great package in today’s paper. Here’s all of our work:
*My story on Pitino being introduced to Minnesota.
*Video with myself and Jason Gonzalez, breaking down the press conference and what was said.
*Notes from yesterday.
*Joe Christensen: Players welcome the up-tempo style Pitino brings.
*Michael Rand: more details about Pitino’s salary.
*Chip Scoggins: Recruiting is key for Pitino.
*Sid Hartman: After days of complaints, suddenly he likes Pitino. How about that?
*Gonzalez: “Big Three” are on Pitino’s radar.
*Reaction to Pitino in Minnesota.
Some leftover quotes:
From former NBA veteran Walter McCarty, who played for Rick Pitino in Kentucky and with the Celtics, and then was an assistant coach with Richard Pitino (under Rick) at Louisville:
On seeing the “coach” in Pitino early: “When you’re around basketball so much – I can’t say that we knew that he was going to be a special coach or that we knew he was going to do this, but you could tell Richard was the one out of all the boys who really took to basketball. His brothers were big sports fans and loved the game, but not in the manner that Richard loves it. You could with Richard -- he knows the and he wants to be a coach. Follow in his dad’s footsteps.”
On Pitino’s work ethic: “He prepared like his father. Richard outworked anyone in the office. He was there before everybody. He left after everybody. He was on the phone. He was just always working and I think that’s one of the biggest [characteristics] he took from his father. He just outworked everybody and he was very prepared. And I think that’s what makes him stand out.”
On Richard growing up in his father’s shadow: “If Richard was going to be a coach, he was going to have to be either really good or really bad because he was going to always be compared to his father. And I think Richard understood that if he was going to be good – he was going to be great.
“He had to go out and show everybody – this is not because my dad. I’m not this good because of my dad … I’ve taken a lot from my dad, but I’m here because I deserve to be here and I’ve earned it.”
On Pitino’s maturity: “He’s not your average 30-year-old. He’s always been mature for his age as far as just seeing him progress out of college … He’s going to be able to get it done. He takes his job very seriously, he takes his craft very seriously. Those kids at the university – that program – will be the top priority.”
Leftover player quotes:
“I was really impressed with the meeting he had with us today before the press conference and during the press conference. … It’s definitely exciting – getting up and down, I mean, I think that’s when I play my best basketball, pressuring people. Just being aggressive – that aggressive style. I really like that. He brings the presence of Billy Donovan and his father, so he’s learned from the best.”
“I’ve always played for coaches that have been significantly older than I am. I think he’s going to be able to relate to us a little bit more because he knows, he’s just 10 years older than me. So it will be cool.”
“For those guys to have trust in him right away – I think that will be the toughest thing. But with his background and who he’s been under, I know those guys will buy in right away. He obviously knows his stuff and even though he’s only been head coach for a year, the guys he’s been under, I know he’s learned a lot.”
“He really wants that hard-nosed defense, up the court. And then on offense, we’re just going to run and gun. And a lot of pick and rolls, getting up and down and getting a lot of shots up.”
“I think the sky is the limit. Our goals don’t change – we want to make the NCAA tournament again, of course, we want to go farther than we did. We want to win the Big Ten championship.”