Even after a successful resurgence under head coach Tubby Smith, the Minnesota Golden Gophers decided to go in another direction, as they let Smith go after their NCAA Tournament exit a couple of weeks ago.
The program quickly began the search for a replacement, looking at VCU’s Shaka Smart and Minnesota alum and former Timberwovles head man Flip Saunders as top candidates, but neither chose to climb on board.
However, the Gophers were still able to make a solid hire this week, as they reached an agreement with FIU’s Richard Pitino, the son of legendary Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino.
“Richard Pitino has been selected as the finalist for the position of University of Minnesota men’s head basketball coach,” the school said in a statement, according to ESPN.com. “Pitino and the university have reached an understanding in principle on the key terms of an agreement.”
The younger Pitino went 18-14 in his first and only season with Florida International University in 2012-2013. That record was 10-wins better than his predecessor, Isiah Thomas, was able to achieve the year prior and Pitino even guided his Golden Panthers to the Sun Belt Conference tournament final, where they eventually lost the automatic tournament bid to Western Kentucky.
Still, Pitino has showed a lot of promise and upside as a coach and with the kind of relationships he has in college hoops – not just with his father, but also with all of his father’s connections – there’s no question that he has the basketball wisdom and knowledge of a much older coach.
Pitino will also be inheriting a much more talented roster than the one he was working with at FIU. The Golden Gophers endured an up-and-down season, but when they were at their best, they were able to knock off some of the nation’s best teams, including Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin.
The Gophers will still likely have a tough time trying to win the stacked Big Ten next season, but the move is obviously one for the long term and with a Pitino in the family, Minnesota’s basketball IQ definitely went up a few points after the signing.