Ralph Willard (center) said he does not believe Rick Pitino will retire if Louisville wins the NCAA title Monday night.
ATLANTA – There is no way Rick Pitino can top this weekend in Georgia. None. Pitino has returned to the top of his profession.
His University of Louisville basketball team plays Michigan Monday night for the NCAA title at the Georgia Dome. If the Cards win, Pitino becomes the 14th college coach to win multiple basketball national titles, but the first to deliver at two schools.
But Pitino's Monday highlight package will actually begin at 11 a.m. That's when he will be formally announced as a member of the 2013 class for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Pitino is 60. He admitted considering retiring several years ago. The next question is inevitable:
Is there any chance that Pitino follows the path that John Wooden (UCLA, 1975) or Al McGuire (1977, Marquette) traveled by exiting with his arms wrapped around the trophy?
"No way," said Ralph Willard.
For nearly four decades, Willard has been one of Pitino's closest friends, working for him with the Knicks, Kentucky and at Louisville until 2011. Willard has huddled without Pitino throughout the weekend at the U of L team hotel in Buckhead, and says he has rarely seen his friend more motivated and excited.
"I really don't think Rick is ready to retire," Willard said. "I don't. Being a coach is the core of who Rick is. He absolutely loves and cherishes what he does – and he's still doing it exceptionally well. He's helped so many players and coaches and he enjoys doing that."
The topic percolates because McGuire beat Dean Smith and North Carolina in this town for the title and then announced his retirement in 1977. Eric Prisbell of USA Today asked Florida coach Billy Donovan, another Pitino protégé, about the idea, and Donovan said he had no indication that Pitino was considering a move.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, 68, bristled when he was asked about retirement following his team's loss to Michigan in the national semifinals Saturday night. Pitino worked for Boeheim and remains close to him. On Sunday Pitino said he understood Boeheim's reaction.
"You all got to realize … it wasn't the fact that he was upset that you were asking whether he'd step down," Pitino said. "What you're basically telling him is, ‘You're getting old.' You're reminding him of that."
"Inside, that's what bothers us because we all want to be Peter Pan and stay young. It wasn't the fact whether he would retire or not because that's a normal question to ask somebody after a Final Four. But it bothers us if some of you are my age, 60."