Richard Pitino will return as Gophers men’s basketball coach next season, team sources told the Star Tribune on Friday.
Athletic director Mark Coyle gave Pitino that assurance one day after the NCAA canceled the remainder of the college basketball season over concerns for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Gophers finished 15-16 after wrapping the regular season with a 32-point victory over Nebraska, followed by a 17-point win over Northwestern to start the Big Ten tournament.
“Coach Pitino and I met [Friday],” Coyle said in a statement. “Richard understands my high expectations for our program, which is to compete at a championship level.”
Pitino is 127-108 in seven seasons at Minnesota, including 48-82 in the Big Ten, and took the program to the NCAA tournament in two of the past four seasons.
Pitino, 37, who could not be reached for comment Friday, agreed to a two-year extension in May after leading the Gophers to their first NCAA tournament victory since 2013, a win over Louisville in Des Moines.
His contract was through the 2023-24 season and raised his average annual salary to $2.46 million. The buyout was unchanged at $2 million if the university fired him before April 30 of this year, but Pitino said recently he didn’t feel he was coaching for his job.
“We have a young team,” Pitino said before the Big Ten tournament. “We played a tough schedule. Guys are giving me their all. So that’s really it. When you get a two-year extension before the season, you don’t think [about questions on your job status], but that’s part of the profession. And I understand it, and I respect it.”
The Gophers’ top 2020 recruit, Jamal Mashburn Jr., said he was confident from conversations with the coach that Pitino would be coaching him as a freshman next season. Mashburn, a four-star guard, finished his senior year with Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. He’ll join four-star Chicago Heights Bloom forward Martice Mitchell in the U’s incoming recruiting class.
“I had no question they would bring him back,” Mashburn said. “He’s a great coach, a young coach that had a young team. I’m excited because he’s the person I built a connection with at a young age in my recruiting process. He’s a big part of why I’m going there.”
Pitino received heavy criticism from fans for missing out on several local recruits in three of the past four recruiting classes. The Gophers lost eight of 10 games toward the end of the Big Ten season, taking them out of realistic NCAA tournament contention, including six losses by six points or fewer. They finished 8-12 in the standings.
But the Gophers lost Amir Coffey early to the NBA and Eric Curry to a season-ending knee injury. They had seven newcomers and one of the youngest teams in the conference. Minnesota still produced All-Big Ten sophomores Daniel Oturu and Marcus Carr. Oturu, a second-team all-league selection, was also named the school’s first All-America since 1999.
Oturu is likely NBA bound. Pitino loses seniors Michael Hurt, Alihan Demir and Brady Rudrud, but the Gophers could return three starters and most of their reserves who were either sophomores or freshmen.
“You look at the success of a lot of Big Ten coaches in the league and those guys have given stability to their players,” Hurt said. “Having that change of coaches not only impacts the players but the guys who came to play for that coach who could end up transferring.
“So, I think stability is the biggest thing. We were very, very close with a young team and a new team. And I think with [Pitino] given the opportunity we’ll l be able to get those guys into the right position to break through next year, especially with the younger talent coming in.
“I think it’s good they’re giving him this opportunity to develop this young talent.”