Amelia Rayno of the Star Tribune is citing sources who are indicating that Alabama is reaching out to Richard Pitino to fill their vacancy after firing Anthony Grant. You may recall that Alabama was rather interested in Tubby Smith six years ago before hiring Grant, this has no bearing on today's discussion other than it is an interesting coincidence.
But my question as to why Alabama is interested in Pitino is...why? I will first address the Alabama opening and then transition into any other possibly flirtations between Coach Pitino and any other institution thinking about hiring him.
Depending on how you feel about Richard Pitino and his future as a major college basketball coach, I wouldn't get too excited or nervous about this particular overture. The Alabama job in particular would be a lateral move, if you view it as a "better" job it is only very slightly so. The Tide makes the NCAA Tournament about half of the time over the last few decades and has had reached the Sweet 16 three times since 1990. Is that a better success rate than Minnesota? Yes it is. Is that the mark of a major college program that in another class? Not really. It is at best a second tier program in it's own conference and it is a football school who enjoys the occasional successful basketball season. Maybe Pitino is enamored with shiny facilities and a larger paycheck, but if he is looking at the big-picture of his career I don't see this as a move in the right direction.
The real question here is why would Alabama be interested? And the only explanation in this case is that his last name is Pitino. I personally still think Pitino has a bright future and this past season was part of the growing pains of a young coach in a tough conference. But in all honesty, what has he proven? Why would another program look at a coach who took a step back in his second year and who's record in two years at a Big Ten school is 43-28 (14-22 in conference). I think his name helped him get the Minnesota job, along with strong recommendations from Billy Donovan and a nice first season at FIU. In this case, his name is the ONLY reason he might be getting a call.
But this article is less about this specific job and more about the chance Richard Pitino leaves this offeseason for any opening. After the disappointing season the Golden Gophers just had I find it hard to believe that a move to another program makes sense for either party.
Here is what I believe about Richard Pitino. He either wants to get settled into a program and build it, making it his own and becoming a consistent winner. Or he desires to eventually coach for a top tier program *cough* Louisville *cough*. And in either case, at least for now, staying here is the best option.
If he wants to succeed and climb the coaching ladder to bigger and better programs, he is first going to have to demonstrate that he can build and sustain some success. Jumping to his third program in four years (fourth in five years if you count his last ast coaching gig) does not demonstrate this. He has quickly ascended from an assistant coach to the head job at a small school and then turning that into a job for a major conference team. Good for him, he really should be proud of what he has accomplished from a career perspective. But at some point you have to prove you are able to build something. Prove you can accomplish more on the floor. Leaving now for a program that is not an obvious step up, a no-brainer, begins to discredit anything you may say about loyalty and wanting to build a program.
At Minnesota, heading into his third season he is starting to get a roster of players who fit what he is trying to accomplish. He has really had two full recruiting cycles to get his kinda player into the program and at least next season's backcourt promises to be rather young and talented. There is still plenty of work to do, particularly in the paint and at forward, but the roster as he would like it to be crafted is starting to come together. Leaving now puts another coach's players at his disposal again and he starts over.
At Minnesota the dream of brand new practice facilities are no longer just on the wish-list, they are nearing actual construction. This recruiting tool will only aid him and his staff as they work to gain a foothold in the Big Ten arms race.
At Minnesota he has an athletic director he trusts and who has his back. This was Norwood Teague's first big hire and I think it is pretty clear that he is going to give Pitino every opportunity to succeed. Expectations here are relatively low and Pitino will be given the resources and time to turn this program into a winner.
Personally I desire for Pitino to stay. I believe he has a chance to build something here and I'd like for him to have ample opportunity to do so. Yes, this past year was rather disappointing but him leaving would do more harm than good. I tend to agree with Rand here.
But Pitino leaving now would absolutely set this program back, regardless of what you think of the job he has done. Year 3 is where we should start to get a true gauge of how his system will work. If he stays and fails, so be it. If he stays and builds the program before bailing, it will be on solid footing for a new coach.
Do I think Richard Pitino is going to be the Gopher's coach for the rest of his career? I do not, I do believe he will one day leave for a bigger/better program. But until he wins here, until he gets back to the NCAA Tournament, until he makes headlines with wins here...I do not believe he is going anywhere. Nor should he. I just don't see another BCS conference program hiring a guy who took a 2nd round NCAA team to the NIT to not even being invited to the NIT. I think he has a bright future, but he has to start showing it before another program is going to hire him. I fully expect to see Coach Pitino on the Williams Arena sidelines for the next couple of years before I get too concerned about finding a new coach. Sometimes it makes more sense to stay and this year I think that is absolutely the case.