The Gophers Get a Grade of B- For Their Hire of Richard Pitino
The University of Minnesota made a very difficult, and in my opinion, incorrect move in the firing of Tubby Smith.
Winning the most games in the history of the program in the first 5 years, as well as making three NCAA Tournament appearances, plus a win this year against UCLA certainly wasn’t a criteria for Minnesota to fire Tubby.
However, they did, and in turn went on a national hunt to hire a new head coach.
With expectations from the fans, the university and specifically Athletic Director Norwood Teague way too high, Minnesota found itself in a pit of a conundrum in regards to attracting top talent to coach the team.
With names like Shaka Smart, Buzz Williams, Fred Hoiberg and even Gopher grad Flip Saunders turning them down, they had to look in a different direction.
That direction turned out to be Pitino… not Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, but Florida International’s Richard Pitino, the son of the great Louisville coach.
At FIU, Richard Pitino was in his first year and led them to a 18-14 overall record in his first campaign with the program. Before that, he was an assistant at several places including Louisville under his dad and Florida under Billy Donovan.
Breaking down the hire, its clear to see the positives and negatives of the decision to hire Rich Pitino.
As for positives: Pitino is 30-years-old, which would lead you to believe his energetic attitude, combined with his ability to recruit as an assistant would make this certainly something appealing to Minnesota. Furthermore the pedigree of being a Pitino, as well as coaching under the great Billy Donovan, has allowed Rich to pick up some great coaching tools along the way.
On the flip side, its clear to see that there is a reason Pitino was at FIU and that he was not one of their original top candidates. Looking at the age issue, although it can be considered a plus, it can also be looked upon as a negative in regards to lack of experience running a program.
In addition, what connections does Pitino have to the Big 10 or the state of Minnesota?
The answer would be none. That has to be alarming in some respects to the fan base who has claimed one of the reasons that Tubby Smith had to go was his lack of ability to recruit the state and the region better.
Rich has the chance to step out of the shadow of his father and run a big boy program on the national level for the first time and put his imprint on college basketball.
Was this the hire that Norwood Teague envisioned when he fired Tubby Smith? NO.
Was it his second or even third choice to succeed Tubby? NO.
But could this turn out to be good for the program and move them in the direction AD Teague would like to see the program go in? We’ll see.
Overall, I would grade the hire as a B- with certain questions to be answered that could enhance or downgrade the hire and for the program, could either set them forward or set them back in the best basketball conference in the country.