Souhan: Pitino could be best Gophers' hire in a decade

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 7, 2013 - 8:13 AM

Richard Pitino is just the sort of young coach who was likely to be hired by the Gophers’ new athletic director.


CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Barring the nagging aberration that is Tim Brewster, Richard Pitino might own the shortest résumé of any coach hired to run a revenue sport at the University of Minnesota since John Gutekunst stuck around to clean up Lou Holtz’s spittle-caked confetti.

Yet given the apathy and low expectations coating the Gophers basketball program like inch-thick dust, it would not be surprising if Pitino became the athletic department’s best hire in a decade or two.

What frightens many alumni is that Pitino, a 30-year-old who has worked as a head coach for only one season, lacks experience. Given the state of the program and the unwillingness of proven coaches to take the Minnesota basketball job, Pitino might prove ideal: young and ambitious enough to treat Williams Arena as the promised land rather than a retirement home or unguarded ATM.

Norwood Teague couldn’t hire Shaka Smart, so he hired the guy who might become the next Shaka Smart.

Think of it this way: If Pitino becomes the head coach that Teague envisions, this spring might have been the only chance Minnesota ever would have to hire him. By next year, he might have hit the “ignore’’ button on his smartphone every time he saw a phone call from the 612 area code.

Whether or not you approve of Pitino, the hiring of Teague as athletic director dictated the hiring of someone like Pitino as head coach.

You don’t hire Teague, a pursuer and nurturer of young head coaches and assistants, and then ask or expect him to hire someone like Tubby Smith or Flip Saunders — somebody who used to be somebody.

You hire Teague because you believe he can identify the next power coach, and because you believe he and his hand-picked coach can build the Gophers basketball program into a sustainable winner. Teague and Pitino will be linked because they need each other to succeed.

If the University of Minnesota wanted the next Gophers coach to be Saunders, it need not have hired Teague. Any alum could have made that hire. If Teague hadn’t plumbed his contacts in search of the next big thing, he should have forfeited a year’s salary.

Under more ideal circumstances, Minnesota would have hired someone like Smart or Buzz Williams, but the Gophers basketball program hasn’t experienced ideal circumstances since the NCAA caught up with Bill Musselman.

The Gophers basketball job is a midlevel Big Ten position. It offers the opportunity to play for one of the Big Ten’s last NCAA at-large berths every winter. It lacks a practice facility and competes with four big-league sports for attention.

Minnesota can become a good job again, but the refurbishment will require the kind of energy and optimism usually associated with youth and perhaps even a constructive form of naiveté.

Teague said Friday that he wanted a coach who would be “a maniac’’ in recruiting. If testimonials from Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan and others are accurate, Richard Pitino is a driven worker who knows the landscape. His success at Florida International demonstrates coaching chops, taking a program that Isiah Thomas turned into a smoking crater and winning 18 games in his first season.

Those who have criticized the hiring of Pitino cite the risk of hiring someone so young and inexperienced, but every coaching hire involves risk. The risk with Tubby Smith was that he would look at Minnesota as a golden-parachute job where he would not be burdened by high expectations. His national title didn’t make him the right coach for Minnesota.

Pitino will bring energy and an attractive style of play to a program that has become known for timid coaching and player regression.

Richard Pitino doesn’t seem to have gained enough experience to know that Minnesota has been a mediocre job since we learned the name Jan Gangelhoff, or that the current athletic department culture promotes avoidance of challenges. He’s unspoiled enough to see upside and opportunity.

If Pitino can coach, and it appears that he can, his unwillingness to place a governor on expectations might become his most attractive trait.


  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Tennessee 12/18/14 7:25 PM
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Atlanta 127 FINAL
Cleveland 98
Phoenix 111 FINAL
Charlotte 106
Dallas 117 FINAL
Detroit 106
Utah 105 FINAL
Miami 87
Orlando 92 FINAL
Boston 109
Brooklyn 89 FINAL
Toronto 105
Memphis 117 FINAL
San Antonio 116
Milwaukee 89 4th Qtr 1:55
Portland 98
Houston 70 3rd Qtr 2:37
Denver 72
Indiana 72 4th Qtr
LA Clippers 78
Ottawa 2 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 2
Dallas 1 3rd Prd 6:19
Vancouver 0
Langston 65 FINAL
North Texas 78
Delaware State 72 FINAL
St Francis-NY 64
James Madison 72 FINAL
Ball State 52
SIU Edwardsville 65 FINAL
Campbell 70
St Francis-PA 67 FINAL
Duquesne 52
North Florida 77 FINAL
Florida State 93
Catawba 69 FINAL
George Mason 99
Ferrum 48 FINAL
High Point 106
Hampton 55 FINAL
Illinois 73
Gardner-Webb 65 FINAL
Jacksonville 68
Longwood 60 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 71
Arkansas State 69 FINAL
Miss State 55
Tennessee 72 FINAL
NC State 83
Ohio State 97
Manhattan 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 65
Robert Morris 57 FINAL
Toledo 83
Char Southern 58 FINAL
Wofford 64
Kennesaw St 90 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
Barber-Scotia 52 FINAL
NC Central 108
Detroit 70 FINAL
UCF 75
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 73
Denver 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 61 FINAL
Houston 56
UT Martin 54 FINAL
Illinois State 64
Milligan 76 FINAL
Louisiana 115
Abilene Christian 44 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 83
USC Upstate 73 FINAL
Memphis 83
Alcorn State 56 FINAL
Murray State 94
Central Mich 80 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Georgia State 54 FINAL
Old Dominion 58
TX-Pan American 69 FINAL
Saint Louis 75
Ill-Chicago 46 FINAL
SMU 67
Texas State 60 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 66
SC State 39 FINAL
Texas Tech 101
Missouri State 70 FINAL
Tulsa 74
Chicago State 60 FINAL
Western Ky 75
Morehead State 50 FINAL
Green Bay 66
Northern Colorado 82 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 92
Winthrop 62 FINAL
Auburn 80
New Mexico St 55 FINAL
Baylor 66
San Diego St 62 FINAL
Cincinnati 71
Eastern Mich 46 FINAL
Michigan State 66
Loyola Marymount 58 FINAL
Stanford 67
Incarnate Word 82 FINAL
Grand Canyon 80
Northeastern 58 FINAL
Cal Poly 60
Central Arkansas 55 FINAL
New Mexico 76
Howard 45 FINAL
Pepperdine 53
Portland 59 2nd Half 3:22
CS-Northridge 37 2nd Half 13:49
Oregon 50
Grambling St 21 2nd Half 11:20
Washington 66
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Western Carolina 79 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 66
(21) Miss State 66 FINAL
Louisiana 51
(25) DePaul 109 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 84
Liberty 64 FINAL
NC State 67
Elon 77 FINAL
Campbell 51
Akron 73 FINAL
UCF 64
Richmond 77 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 67
Montana 70 FINAL
Seattle 64
(7) Stanford 46 FINAL
Chattanooga 54
Florida A&M 69 FINAL
Southern U 80
Oklahoma 72 FINAL
(13) Duke 92
Savannah State 56 FINAL
Auburn 62
Northern Colorado 43 FINAL
South Florida 84
Youngstown St 73 FINAL
Robert Morris 65
Siena 75 FINAL
Sacred Heart 65
Vermont 63 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
(1) South Carolina 69 FINAL
Hampton 49
Fla Gulf Coast 91 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 46
Texas Southern 92 FINAL
Houston Baptist 80
Northwestern 88 FINAL
Appalachian St 72
NC Central 52 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 67
Drexel 50 FINAL
Quinnipiac 74
Cincinnati 52 FINAL
Northern Ky 66
Alabama State 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 77
Morehead St 69 FINAL
USC Upstate 75
Arkansas State 59 FINAL
Kent State 44
American Univ 60 FINAL
Manhattan 52
UNC Greensboro 60 FINAL
St Bonaventure 78
Arkansas-Monticello 56 FINAL
Northwestern St 61
Prairie View 70 FINAL
Sam Houston St 51
McNeese State 59 FINAL
(3) Texas 76
Yale 90 FINAL
Wagner 65
Oakland 61 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 54
Eastern Kentucky 62 FINAL
Alabama A&M 56
SIU-Edwardsville 47 FINAL
Northern Ill 69
McMurry 25 FINAL
TX-Arlington 82
Portland 65 FINAL
Eastern Washington 72
North Texas 42 FINAL
San Francisco 60


question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite pro sports coach in the Twin Cities?

Weekly Question





Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters