BOZICH | Richard Pitino "hopes" his father returns to Louisville, but isn't certain
Richard Pitino said that he hoped that his father, Rick, returned to Louisville for the 2016-17 but he's heard talk about him stepping away from the game for the last 20 years.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WDRB) – In a season that has been five months of furrowed brows for the Pitino Family, Richard Pitino has not given his father, Rick, a nudge either way on the Stay or Go discussion surrounding his Hall of Fame career.
Stay because you can quickly fix the mess at the University of Louisville and you can still shake up as many victories as any coach in the college game.
Go because you’re a 63-year-old Hall of Fame coach with all the trophies, rings and accolades that any man could need. No need for additional aggravation.
“I will (give my opinion) when the time comes,” Richard Pitino said. “I think it’s been a trying year – for everybody.”
Including Wednesday evening at Bankers’ Life Fieldhouse. Richard popped cough drops the entire two hours of the Big Ten Tournament game his Minnesota team lost to Illinois, 85-52.
His father changed plans and did not attend the game. Nobody from the Pitino family was in the group of less than 100 fans that Minnesota brought to Indianapolis. Only Mike Balado, the U of L assistant coach, who worked for Richard at Florida International, made the drive from Louisville, wearing his finest purple sport shirt.
It’s been that kind of the winter for the Pitinos.
Rick’s University of Louisville program is sitting out the Atlantic Coast and NCAA tournaments because of a self-imposed post-season ban related to allegations that strippers performed in the basketball dorm from 2010-14.
Richard’s Minnesota program has people in the Twin Cities howling, too. The Gophers lost 23 of 31 games as Pitino found himself dismissing and suspending players. The talk shows started to discuss his $7 million buyout.
Does Richard believe his father will return for a 16th season at U of L?
“I hope so,” he said.
“I always think after every season he takes a step back and says, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? I’ve had a long, long career.’
“He’s done it for 30 something years. I think always … I’ve thought every year for the last 20 years, he’s going to retire from coaching. I think we all hear that. I think he’s taking some time off, like we all do. Hopefully he feels good about it, feels great about coming back.”
Whenever Father and Son talk, Richard said that he tells his Dad to ignore the criticism and turmoil and simply keep working.
Richard, 33, was a high school student in Boston when things got ugly for his father with the Celtics and he resigned 15 years ago. Richard served as an assistant coach at Louisville twice – from 2007-09 and again during the 2011-12 season. The second appearance was during the four-year period when Katina Powell said she provided women for sex and stripper parties at Minardi Hall.
Richard said that he is certain that his father had no knowledge of the parties. He said that all of his assistant coaches knew that breaking NCAA rules would not be tolerated.
Understand, however, that he did not say the parties did not occur. Louisville did not self-impose a ban without a reason.
“There have been some things that have occurred there, obviously,” Richard Pitino said. “They’ve had to make tough decisions. People have said, ‘You should know,’ and ‘You shouldn’t know.’ And I understand all of those things …
“I’ve told him every day, not every day, but in every conversation we’ve had that I know what you’re about. You’re not the first organization that may or may not have had one or two guys or whomever it may be, to act the wrong way.
“Unfortunately when you’re in any business, people are going to screw up. That doesn’t take away from you as a leader. That doesn’t take away from you as a coach, as a mentor.
“He’s a guy who tries to run a clean program. We all knew what the expectations were for us when you worked for him. If anyone ever thought twice about breaking a rule, they knew they were doing it without him knowing it.
“So it’s difficult for everybody. I’m still proud to be his assistant coach. He’s got a lot of people who should be extremely proud of what he’s done.”
One thing Rick Pitino did Wednesday was skip Minnesota’s game, choosing to remain in Florida. Dad called Son on Tuesday and asked if he cared if he changed plans and did not attend the game.
“It was more me probably telling him, ‘Go and enjoy yourself, you deserve some time off,’ “ Richard Pitino said.
Watching this Minnesota team, the one that played without six of its top seven scorers, was not enjoyable – to the very last dribble.
Down 33 with less than 40 seconds to play, Richard Pitino called one more play on Minnesota’s final possession. He directed four players to the baseline and told Darin Haugh to attack the right side.
That was Minnesota’s farewell play on a day when the Gophers had five scholarship players available.
As difficult as this basketball season has been in Louisville it has stirred an equal amount of howling in the Twin Cities.
The loss to Illinois in the opening round was Minnesota’s 17th defeat in 19 Big Ten games. That explains why they were playing in front of little more than a friends and family crowd with the curtains pulled down to hide the empty seats in the upper arena.
That does not mean Minnesota has not made headlines. The Gophers have made plenty. Minnesota, as well as Louisville, North Carolina State, Seton Hall, Oklahoma State and other programs, was mentioned in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated with questions about the relationship between a foreign tour company, a European basketball academy and recruits. Richard Pitino said that he was not concerned by the story.
On Monday the Minneapolis Star-Tribune published a story that said Pitino would not be fired after this season, his third, in part because the buyout in his contract had been increased to about $7 million last spring after he was mentioned as a candidate for the opening at Alabama.
The losses, including a 23-point stumble at Rutgers, last weekend are not the only reasons people studied Pitino’s contract. Against Illinois, Pitino had five scholarship players available.
Several of his team’s top players have either been dismissed or suspended. Another suffered a broken foot. Pitino decided to sit three for the final four games after a pair of sex videos were posted to the social media account of one player.
There’s more, including the inevitable mentions that Tubby Smith, the guy Richard replaced, is a candidate for national coach of the year because of the work he has done guiding Texas Tech to a likely NCAA Tournament appearance this winter.
Pitino has not made the NCAA Tournament during the three seasons after he arrived from Florida International, but he did win the National Invitation Tournament in 2014.
The Big Ten is big boy basketball. Richard Pitino knows that. Overtaking Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State, Maryland and the others will not be easy. But he said the Gophers will be back.
“I’m still excited about where we’re headed,” he said. “We’re one of the youngest teams in the country. We have a really good recruiting class and we have good transfers sitting out.
“When we get away from this, we’re going to say that we still have a lot to be excited about.”
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