When Anthony Grant was fired at Alabama the rumors flared up about Minnesota's Richard Pitino as a candidate Bama was considering. This made no sense, at least not to me, and eventually the Tide hired Avery Johnson. At this point I think I assumed the almost annual cycle of Gopher coach as candidate for other jobs to be over. Partly because Pitino really has not proven nearly enough to boost his resume and parlay his time here into a better job. And partially because coaching carousel had pretty much come to a halt.
Then Billy Donovan decided to leave Florida for the bright lights of
Oklahoma City the NBA. And every single article you can Google about potential replacements for Donovan includes Richard Pitino (hat tip to Alligator Army for most of these links below).
Is there any fire behind this smoke? I still believe it to be unlikely but the chance of Florida offering the job to Pitino is entirely possible.
In my previous post about Pitino potentially being the head coach at Alabama I laid out several reasons that this just didn't make any sense for either party. A move to Alabama was lateral...at best. And from Bama's perspective, Pitino really hasn't accomplished much of anything to really get anybody excited about his future as a major college head coach. In this particular case I think it makes a tiny bit more sense for Florida (only a tiny bit) and nobody could fault young Pitino for jumping at the chance to head up a top-tier program like Florida.
I think the questions on Pitino's side of this are pretty clear. Would he take the job? Of course he would. Would this be a good move for his family and his career? Of course it would. He would get a fat raise, he would have greater resources at his disposal, he would be recruiting to a very successful program and he would be at a school that is easily in the top-tier of their power conference. Sure he would run into the Kentucky-ceiling most years but the path to a top 2 or 3 finish year after year and NCAA Tournament appearances is clear. So from the northern side of this equation, it is a no-brainer for Pitino.
Now the real question is, would Florida hire him? All of the same arguments against Alabama hiring Pitino still remain...he hasn't accomplished all that much and has just three years of head coaching experience under his belt. As I said previously:
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).
In this case there is some shared history, relationships established and the fan base has some familiarity with the name. They probably even think fondly of Richard Pitino, enough to get excited about his future as the head man for the Gators. Clearly that is not enough to get the job, but it is enough to be in consideration.
I firmly believe that our current head coach is not sitting atop Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley's list. I would imagine that names like Archie Miller and Chris Mack are going to be vetted first. But if the guys at the top of his list decide to stay in their current roles, I believe that Richard Pitino would be a very strong plan B for the Gators. Here is why.
There are two factors at play here that are sort of in Richard's favor; familiarity and precedent. Familiarity with Pitino who spent two seasons in Gainseville. Those who will be making the hire, those whom he would be working with and those who will be supporting the team will all have familiarity with not just the name but the person. When hiring a young coach believed to have a bright future, have familiarity with said coach goes a long way. Richard Pitino's name never surfaced with the Texas opening. Why? Because there is no familiarity here, it would have essentially been a hire on blind faith. But assuming a good impression was left in Gainseville, there is a strong likelihood that he will be considered for their opening.
Precedent? When Billy Donovan was hired it came with just two years of head coaching experience, and just seven years of coaching experience at all. He came highly recommended by Rick Pitino and was considered a hot name in the coaching ranks. Turned out Florida nailed it with this hire and Donovan went on to win two national championships, make four Final Fours and won seven SEC regular season titles over 19 seasons. Now Florida has a new opening, there is a young coach who many believe has a bright future and this young coach comes with recommendations from not only Rick Pitino but Donovan has had great things to say about him as well.
None of this is to say that Florida should hire Pitino or that he in the top tier of candidates. But he would seem to be on the list, probably a solid plan B and a potential hire that would be sell-able to the fan base. From the Pitino perspective this would be a logical move. From Florida's perspective it is a realistic possibility.
For those of you keeping score at home on the Gopher Fan's Sky is Falling Scale, I would have put Alabama at DEFCON 4 and these Florida rumors at DEFCON 3.
- DEFCON 5 (no smoke, no rumors, no chance)
- DEFCON 4 (there's really nothing to see here)
- DEFCON 3 (mutual interest, not likely preferred candidate)
- DEFCON 2 (he's interviewing)
- DEFCON 1 (the first Gopher coach to leave us since Lou Holtz is imminent...OMG! OMG! OMG!)
Could it happen? Yes. Would you blame him? I wouldn't. If it happens, we will move on and see what comes next. But I do believe the smart money is on Richard Pitino roaming the Williams Arena sideline's next season.