Florida International coach Richard Pitino has reached an agreement to become Minnesota’s next head coach following the firing of Tubby Smith last week. The university announced the decision on Wednesday.
On Tuesday morning, Pitino spoke with FOXSportsFlorida.com from Louisville and discussed an array of topics.
He talked about completing his first year as FIU coach, the Panthers joining Conference USA for next season, the unique look being put on FIU’s home court and the gruesome injury suffered by Louisville’s Kevin Ware on Sunday.
The Golden Gophers did not come up in conversation.
Son of Hall of Famer and Louisville coach Rick Pitino, Richard took the FIU job against his father’s advice.
This time, Rick likely encouraged Richard, 30, to make the move.
A father wants his son to be successful, and doing so was not guaranteed at FIU. Of course, that’s also true about Minnesota, though the school’s resources and membership in the Big Ten offer a better starting point than Richard had in Miami.
Smith led Minnesota to three NCAA tournament appearances and the team’s first tournament win since 1997 — a second-round victory over UCLA this season — but last week the school decided to part ways with him after six seasons.
Pitino accepted the FIU job last April, replacing Isiah Thomas, whose Panthers never won more than 11 games in any of his three seasons.
Under Pitino, FIU enjoyed its first winning season (18-14, 11-9) in 13 years and reached the Sun Belt tournament championship game.
On Tuesday morning, Pitino repeated what he had said in December about wanting to live in Florida and grow the FIU program.
“The one thing I love about FIU is that I’m very eager to get people to this place,” he said. “We’ve got a beautiful campus. We’ve got a lot of great things happening. We’ve got construction everywhere. We’re in Miami. So, there are a lot of reasons why we’re trying to get the FIU name out there.”
In an attempt to help FIU’s exposure, Pitino helped design a court surface for next season that shows a full-court visual of a beach.
“The reason why I took this job is, when you say Miami, everybody perks up a little bit,” Pitino said. “I’m up here in Louisville and everybody keeps saying, ‘Why aren’t you down in Miami. Get out of here.’ I think that’s what excites me about the place.”
Before FIU played at Louisville in December, Rick Pitino said he had told his son not to take the FIU job. The elder Pitino thought Richard would be better off with a few more years as a Cardinals assistant.
But Richard Pitino made his year-long excursion to FIU worthwhile by turning around a program and then cashing it in for a bigger, more lucrative job — something his dad knows all about.
Rick’s coaching career has included head-coaching stops at Providence, the New York Knicks, Kentucky, the Boston Celtics and currently Louisville.
Perhaps not remaining in a place long is a Pitino family trait?
As for FIU, players and fans have a right to be disappointed, though school officials had to know Pitino would leave eventually. They probably figured a young coach in his first job would remain for three or four years at least.
The problem was, other young coaches don’t have the pedigree of Richard Pitino.