Gophers, Pitino agree to contract extension through 2022
MINNEAPOLIS — Guiding Minnesota to the best single-season turnaround in the country last year has earned coach Richard Pitino a contract extension.
Pitino’s contract was extended by one season and now runs through the 2021-22 season, the university announced on Wednesday. Terms were not disclosed and will be finalized when the Board of Regents votes on it later this month.
Pitino led the Golden Gophers to 24 wins and an NCAA Tournament berth last season, a 16-victory improvement from the miserable 2015-16 season that had the 34-year-old coach on the hot seat. With the team returning all of its most important players and adding a couple of highly regarded recruits, the son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino has suddenly become very popular.
“Since I came back to Minnesota as the AD last May, I have been impressed with coach Pitino and his management of our men’s basketball program,” athletic director Mark Coyle said. “I’ve seen accountability, commitment and focus from every student-athlete and member of the men’s basketball staff, led by coach Pitino. The team’s success on the court this year generated a lot of excitement on campus and around the state. I’m looking forward to much more of that with coach Pitino leading our program.”
Coyle’s reference to accountability was notable given some of the off-the-court issues Pitino’s players faced in his first three years on the job. It grew to be such a concern last summer that school President Eric Kaler mentioned it while introducing Coyle as the new Gophers athletic director. The school also issued a report that chastised Pitino for his spending, going so far as to scrutinize him for not refilling the gas tank on his rental car during recruiting trips.
The losing, the off-court drama and the microscope applied to the program by the university all contributed to a tense atmosphere at the outset of last season. But Pitino never ran from the criticism, instituted some new initiatives to ensure his players were more responsible and led the Gophers to a No. 5 seed in the tournament. After an injury to senior Akeem Springs, the Gophers lost to Middle Tennessee State in their first game.
Pitino was named Big Ten coach of the year for his efforts.
Springs is the only key player the Gophers lose from last year’s team and they will add a couple of highly regarded recruits to enter next season with high hopes.
“My family and I love living in the Twin Cities and look forward to continuing to build a strong men’s basketball program on and off the court,” Pitino said. “I have loved getting to know and working with Mark Coyle this past year. Mark and President Kaler’s commitment to athletics is second to none. The future of Gopher basketball is very bright and I am excited to be a part of it.”