In late February, college basketball's coaching carousel spun through a sequence that could reshape the Gophers men's program.
The Gophers took a disappointing loss at Nebraska on Feb. 27, and coach Richard Pitino gave an emotional postgame speech that, according to sources, left team members convinced he would not be back as their coach next season.
That same week, another job opened, as New Mexico decided Paul Weir would be out after the season.
Now, Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle remains mum about Pitino's future, and multiple sources told the Star Tribune that Pitino has interviewed for the New Mexico opening and emerged as a finalist along with former Nebraska coach Tim Miles.
If the Gophers fire Pitino, they would owe him a $1.75 million buyout. But if he leaves on his own, that buyout is off the table, and he would owe them a $500,000 termination fee.
The Gophers remained in a holding pattern Monday, as several other schools announced coaching changes. Indiana fired coach Archie Miller, announcing it would use private donations to help pay the $10.3 million buyout. DePaul fired Dave Leitao. Penn State hired Purdue assistant Micah Shrewsberry.
Coyle was in Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament last week, but it was unclear if he met with Pitino after the Gophers' season ended Thursday with a loss to Ohio State. The team finished 14-15 and had its seventh losing Big Ten season in Pitino's eight years.
On March 2, Coyle told WCCO radio he would address Pitino's future at season's end. In that same interview, he also said that he met with Pitino on Feb. 26 after the Gophers lost to Northwestern at Williams Arena.
New Mexico also announced Feb. 26 it would mutually part ways with Wier after the season. Wier had former Pitino assistant Dan McHale on his coaching staff.
One day after the Coyle/Pitino meeting and the New Mexico announcement, the Gophers suffered a fifth consecutive loss, this one 78-74 to the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, leading to Pitino's emotional postgame speech.
"[Coyle's] going to have to make tough decisions," Pitino told the media that week. "And that's fine. It's a big-boy business. But he's been very, very supportive, and I know he'll support me until the end."
Pitino's buyout has shrunk from five years ago, when it was $7.1 million with the Gophers coming off an 8-23 season. Pitino rebounded to win Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 2017 and made the NCAA tournament again in 2019, when he and Coyle negotiated his current contract.
Pitino, 38, has three more years left on that deal, with a $2.46 million salary, and would receive a $400,000 retention bonus if he remained in the job on April 30.
Last year, when the Gophers finished 15-16 in his seventh season, the buyout was $2 million.
One day after last season ended, Coyle indicated he was keeping Pitino with a statement that said, "Richard understands my high expectations for our program, which is to compete at a championship level."