LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In college basketball, the Rick Pitino guys have not only gotten the jobs, they've gotten the jobs where a guy can start his career and win.
Don't believe me? Call the roll. Ralph Willard – Western Kentucky. Tubby Smith – Tulsa. Billy Donovan – Marshall. Herb Sendek – Miami (Ohio). Mick Cronin – Murray State. Kevin Willard – Iona. They all made it out of their first jobs to better ones in BCS conferences.
There are others. There will be more. But there hasn't been anybody trying to do what Richard Pitino is doing: He is trying to win at a coaching landfill – Florida International.
The guy with the strongest Rick Pitino bloodlines has put himself in a situation where he will need more than bloodlines to make it out with his career intact. That is precisely how he wanted it.
Always has – from the time he volunteered as a high school assistant when he was a student at Providence College.
"I think it's the right way to do it," Richard Pitino said. "I don't want anything to be handed to me."
Fear has never been a factor for Richard Pitino. He is the only one of the brothers who has picked up his clipboard and gotten into the game – and he shares two names with his famous father, not one.
FlU plays against the powerful University of Louisville team that Rick Pitino coaches on Wednesday night. The Panthers are 3-4. These are the vital signs of the program Richard was handed:
*In 31 seasons of Division I basketball, the Panthers have made one NCAA Tournament appearance.
*The last four guys who coached FIU were unable to use the job as a launching pad to a better campus and contract.
*In three home games, FIU has yet to draw more than 971 fans. In other words, the Panthers will play in front of more people in the KFC Yum! Center than they will over their entire home schedule.
All the stories about the Father/Son matchup are nice. So is the talk about where Richard's mom, Joanne, and three siblings will sit Wednesday. But he is trying to win at a place where others have lost.
"I liked the FIU opportunity because nobody had done it before," Richard Pitino said. "I think that's going to be even more rewarding in the end. I love it. There's almost a purity to it where you're just coaching your team."
"Richard has matured the right way," said Rick Pitino. "Nothing has been given to him. Much has been earned."
Never let it be said that Richard has chosen to bounce the ball down Easy Street. This isn't even like Reggie Theus going to New Mexico State or Steve Masiello going to Manhattan.
Even Rick Pitino had it better when he left an assistant's job to take over Boston University in 1978. The Terriers had only endured five straight losing seasons, and Rick will confess that he took over a veteran team with older, mature players.
If Richard makes it out of Miami, not only will he be able to say that he did it his way, he can say he did it the ridiculously hard way. Most of the FIU roster left after Isiah Thomas was fired. Pitino has three freshmen and four transfers who will join his program next season.
"You start at the bottom when you take over an FIU at every phase of the game," Rick Pitino said. "When you're at that level, it's fun because you've got to do it all. You can't be afraid to sweep the floors. That's the way you learn this business, from the bottom up."
This is what the bottom looks like: FIU is trying to avoid its 13th consecutive losing season. Fan support? Cloudy to indifferent. US Century Bank Arena, FIU's home court, seats about 5,000 fans. There were 774 seats filled when FIU defeated Arkansas State last month. Football, baseball and track are the sports of choice in the South Florida high school population.
If Richard Pitino wins at Florida International, he'll be a hot coaching candidate. He'll deserve to be. He says he left U of L to do this because the two seasons he spent with Billy Donovan at Florida convinced him he was ready – and that it seemed like the right time to leave on a high note after U of L's 2012 NCAA Final Four run.
"Billy told me, ‘You're going to learn there are no easy jobs,' " Richard said. "Everywhere you go, there are going to be things that people say are tough to work with. You've got to make the best of the situation. It's all about what you put into it."
Billy Donovan was correct. FIU is not an easy job. It is one of the toughest in college basketball. That's just the way Richard Pitino wanted it.