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Minnesota Basketball: The Richard Pitino Era, How Long Will It Last?

Andy Lyons

I was in Atlanta for last year's Final Four, just days after Minnesota hired Richard Pitino to replace Tubby Smith.  I was in a position to talk with a lot of fans and coaches from all over the country.  Louisville was obviously well represented in Atlanta and I had many conversations about the younger Pitino.  It was a near unanimous consensus that it was a foregone conclusion that Richard would succeed Rick when the elder decided it was time to retire.  The Louisville fanbase was enamored with Richard.

Most of the time I smiled and said that would be just fine because in order for a program like Louisville to hire Richard he would have had to achieve some level of success at Minnesota.  My assumption is that if he is successful enough for Louisville to hire him away, he will have established the program on a firm foundation; one that the next coach could continue to build upon.

Assuming Richard does achieve some sustained success at Minnesota, I wonder how long he will be here.  Will he establish himself as a premier coach and Minnesota as a top-tier Big Ten program much like Jim Boheim did for Syracuse or Jim Calhoun at UConn or even Mike Krzyzweski at Duke?  Those are extreme examples, especially Krzyzweski, of coaches who stepped into programs that were not elite and eventually made them such.

Duke UConn Syracuse
Current Elite Coach win % 0.789 0.726 0.747
All Other Program's Coaches 0.650 0.596 0.648

Or will Pitino make a couple Sweet 16 runs (or better) in the NCAA Tournament and then flip his Gopher job for a higher profile one?  It has been done before at institutions all over the country and you'll find people from all over the country who will remind you that Minnesota is not a destination job.

But if a younger coach were to establish something here, see some benefits of staying here and is receiving the proper support from the administration; could this become his destination job?  What got me thinking about this were a couple quotes I read from Rick Pitino after his visit to The Barn last night to watch his son.

Roughly two years ago, before current Minnesota coach Richard Pitino took his first head coaching job at Florida International, his father offered some advice.

"What I said to him," University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino said, "was, ‘Listen: Take your time (as an assistant). Spend about six, seven years with me and replace me.' Our athletic director loved him.

"He said, ‘No, this is an opportunity of a lifetime.'"

And then he even took it a step further.

That's not to say Richard could never find his way back to U of L, but he's settled down now at Minnesota. And his father seems happy with that choice.

"He said, ‘Dad, I could die at this program,'" Rick Pitino told BTN. "He was really humble about it. He said, ‘We're the only Division I school in the state. It's just an awesome program. I think we can really turn it around into a big-time situation.

"And I'm real proud he thinks that."

I also have heard Richard say things like this a few times in various interviews.  But it begs the question.  Is he saying this from a marketing and recruiting standpoint?  Is he pandering to the fanbase and trying to generate some recruiting enthusiasm?  Or does he believe this to be true, that Minnesota is a good job, one that can be established as top-tier Big Ten program and that it is a great place to set roots?

The obvious caveat here is that none of this matters unless Richard can establish some success.  If he fails to establish his brand of basketball in the Big Ten, if he is unable to attract elite talent to Minnesota and if he is unable to win in the post-season then it won't really matter if he wants to stay here for life or not.  But that is not the discussion topic of this post.

The question is, do you think that he would stay?

The Gopher program is one where I do believe it is challenging to move from a decent Big Ten program to a top-tier one that is capable of competing for a Big Ten title and making the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis.  Once it gets to that level, I believe there are a number of things about this program that would make it easier to sustain; but getting there is the challenge.

If Richard Pitino is capable and eventually successful at establishing the University of Minnesota as a consistent top-tier program in the Big Ten, will he stay?  What do you think?