It was not a secret in the college basketball industry that if Richard Pitino and the Minnesota Golden Gophers failed to make the 2019 NCAA Tournament, Pitino’s seat was going to become very toasty.
Now, Pitino is safely in the Big Dance and about to coach against the school which employed his father for over a decade.
Before Minnesota faces the Louisville Cardinals in round one of the NCAA Tournament, Richard Pitino — trying to carve out his own reputation and legacy and emerge from Rick’s shadow — spoke about his position as Minnesota’s head coach.
“I’ve got little kids. I like it here. Dehumanize it as much as you want, but I want to be here,” Pitino said Wednesday, reacting to the hot-seat discussions which recently focused on him.
“I don’t know if it’s true or not. I didn’t want to ask (Minnesota athletic director) Mark (Coyle),” Pitino said, smiling. “But when you are able to do that, yeah, it’s fulfilling. Hopefully we can make a little run at it and continue to build this program.”
This is Pitino’s second NCAA Tournament appearance at Minnesota. His first, in 2017, did not produce a win. Kermit Davis and Middle Tennessee bounced Minnesota in the round of 64, a 12-over-5 upset. Clearly, being able to win one NCAA game would, by itself, advance the Minnesota basketball project Pitino is trying to develop.
Pitino’s job should be safe for another season, but in terms of looking into the future, keep this point in mind: Tubby Smith — who came through the Rick Pitino coaching tree and was Richard Pitino’s immediate predecessor at Minnesota — left the program after winning an NCAA Tournament game in 2013. The program and the coach were both exhausted in their relationship. Both parties needed a change, and Richard Pitino was the product of that change.
If Pitino doesn’t beat Louisville — meaning that he will still have zero NCAA Tournament wins after six seasons on the job — winning one NCAA game in a future season, if that is all the Gophers achieve, might not offer an ironclad guarantee of long-term job security.
Beating Louisville is not important in terms of “winning one for Dad.” It is important because Rick Pitino’s son really needs to bolster his Minnesota resume sooner rather than later.
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