Richard Pitino was fired as the Gophers men's basketball coach after eight seasons that produced one winning record in the Big Ten and one victory in the NCAA tournament. He had an abysmal conference record, particularly on the road (14-61), and yet he received a soft sendoff from a good share of the Gophers hoop followers.
My guess is this was due to the fact Pitino was a young guy with cute kids and he came off as affable in most interviews — apparently — including with his weekly radio show.
It might have been a soft departure, but it wasn't a soft landing. He leapt for the opening at New Mexico, where he will be making close to a million less per year than his replacement, Ben Johnson, the first assistant coach to receive the Gophers job without an interim title since George Hanson's one season in 1970-71.
The kindness shown toward Pitino's departure was quite a contrast to the treatment received by a couple of coaches who actually brought some improvement to a couple of local franchises stuck in neutral — or reverse.
I declare this pair to be overly bad-mouthed head coaches over the prior decade on the Minnesota's sports scene:
Brad Childress with the Vikings and Tom Thibodeau with the Timberwolves.
Zygi Wilf and the entire Wilf family were anxious to show their muscles and fire someone early in their ownership, so they dropped Mike Tice a half-hour after a season-closing victory over Chicago in 2005.
Childress had some roster building to do and it started with the maneuvering that brought in Steve Hutchinson, a future Hall of Famer at guard.
The Vikings were 6-10, then 8-8, then reached the playoffs at 10-6 as Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson split quarterback duties in 2008. Brett Favre came in, had a great season in 2009 and Chilly came within an errant pass (and several Adrian Peterson fumbles) from taking the Vikings to the Super Bowl.
Favre was as bad in 2010 as he was good a year earlier, injuries occurred and the decision to bring in Randy Moss — pushed harder by upper management than the coach — turned into a disaster.
Childress took the fall for Moss acting like a moron and was fired after10 games. It was a bum rap. Nearly making the Super Bowl should get a coach a freebie for the next season. If he was 3-7 in 2011, goodbye, but not in 2010.
The Timberwolves had missed the playoffs in 12 consecutive seasons when Thibodeau was hired as president for basketball and the coach for 2016-17. He was assigned the mission of ending the embarrassment and getting the Wolves back to the playoffs.
The Wolves — yes, even the Wolves — had to know exactly what they were getting in Thibs: a coach with one goal, namely, to do his all to win that night's game.
Thibodeau watched a youngish collection of Wolves go 31-51 and then he made his move, trading Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and a draft choice that turned into Lauri Markkanen for Jimmy Butler.
The Wolves went 47-35, a tie for the fifth most wins in franchise history in 2017-18.They would've had a few more if Butler didn't miss a stretch of games with injury. They also brought back the customers with 18 sellouts.
The first division of the West was salty that season. The 47 wins were good only for the eighth seed. That put the Wolves against No. 1 seed Houston — at the peak of former powers — they were eliminated 4-1 in the first-round series.
The Butler mess erupted that summer. Thibodeau was fired with the Wolves at 19-21 at the mid-point of the 2018-19 season. The Wolves then went back to rebuilding, which has been their long and winding road to nowhere.
Thibodeau was back in Target Center on Wednesday night for the first time since he was fired. He was bringing in the New York Knicks, a historic franchise with a hardcore fan base. The Knicks had not been in the playoffs since 2013, and they were 38-110 in the previous two seasons.
"End the embarrassment, Thibs,'' was the edict.
The Knicks, with a roster with that would make few teams jealous, arrived at 24-23 and holding fifth place in an East that is crowded between fourth and ninth place.
You're never going to hear "collaboration'' from Thibs, and if you do, he's not going to mean it. He basically was fired by the Wolves because he blew off the business part of the operation, blew off many people, even the influential TV analyst Jim Petersen, and stuck to his theory:
Try to win tonight.
They seem to like that in New York. Out here on the prairie, we prefer affability over actual coaching ability.