The gene for survival has been passed from Richard Andrew Pitino, now in his 39th season as a head coach in NCAA Division I basketball or the NBA, and his son, Richard William Pitino, now in his fifth season as a head coach in Division 1.
Pitino the Elder is in the midst of another of his controversies, this one being that an underling was running hookers through the basketball dorm at Louisville. The NCAA has leveled a charge of “failing to monitor” of the happenings in his program, meaning it has bought Pitino’s outrageous claim that he knew nothing of the Cardinals’ pop-up brothel.
How much damage has this scandal done to the Louisville program?
The Cardinals just got done beating Kentucky for the first time in five years, are 10-1, rated No. 6 in country and ready to open the ACC schedule at home on Wednesday against No. 12 Virginia on ESPN2.
In other words, Pitino the Elder might have turned 64 in September, but he’s still the Slick Rick that was introduced to the national spotlight when he took upstart, three-point launching Providence to the Final Four in 1987.
Rick Pitino was 23 when he coached his first game as the interim for the fired Bruce O’Neil at Hawaii in February 1975. He was hired at Boston University before the 1978-79 season and was 26 when coaching his first game.
His son, not R.W. or Richie but Richard, was 30 when he coached his first game at Florida International in November 2012.
When checking ages, I discovered Rick was born on Sept. 18 and Richard on Sept. 16. It was then required to check the alleged characteristics of Virgos.
One website said that Virgos were “truthful, loyal and determined.” It also stated that Virgos “easily live in denial.” That last part certainly seems to apply to Pitino the Elder.
And there’s no doubt about the “determined,” since that is the key to survival, which Rick has demonstrated through stormy times with the Boston Celtics, and personal and NCAA issues at Louisville.
Heck, there are even internet references to Rick having been charged with eight of the 60-some NCAA violations that hit the Hawaii program after the departure of O’Neil.
Richard’s crisis came last winter in his fourth season as a head coach and his third in Minnesota. Mostly, it was based on Pitino the Younger overseeing the worst team in 120 years of Gophers men’s basketball — 8-23, with two victories in 19 games against Big Ten opponents.
Throw in the group sex video that was just a hint of things to come in men’s athletics at the university and there’s not much doubt about this:
Pitino would have been gone if Norwood Teague, the disgraced former athletic director, had not presented Richard with the going-away present of a contract extension with a $7 million-plus buyout if it occurred before this season.
University President Eric Kaler had to settle for calling out Pitino’s program when making the announcement that Mark Coyle had been hired as the athletic director on May 12.
In response, Richard Pitino did what Pitinos do. He developed a plan for survival. He went from limited media availability to being interviewed everywhere … apologetic (sort of) and vowing better days ahead.
That was an easy promise to make, since future days could not have been worse on the court.
Actually, the upswing had started when Pitino swept Kevin Dorsey out of the program in early April. He was more trouble than a guy who didn’t want to pass the ball on a fast break was worth.
The other two suspended players, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer, stayed. Reggie Lynch also was reinstated after being cleared on an accusation of sexual misconduct. Freshman Amir Coffey was outstanding, and Eric Curry was a strong addition.
Better personnel — and a nonconference schedule that showed off the Pitino gene for survival.
There would be no trip to an eight-team tournament with a strong field where the Gophers might get beat twice.
There would be nonconference games at Williams Arena, and another against a mediocre Vanderbilt team in the neutral-site game in Sioux Falls. The ACC/Big Ten challenge required the lone road game, and also the lone loss at Florida State.
The Gophers topped the Big Ten with 11 of the 13 nonconference games at home. Ohio State played 10, with nine apiece for Northwestern, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan and Indiana, not counting this Saturday’s game against Louisville in Indianapolis.
Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue. Rutgers, Wisconsin and Illinois played eight at home, and Michigan State — the opponent for the Big Ten opener on Tuesday night — played seven in East Lansing.
When faced with a crisis, a Pitino knows how to survive. And how to schedule.