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Louisville Cardinals’ Rick Pitino: I Backed Out Of Deal to Coach Michigan In 2001


Before he joined the Louisville Cardinals, Rick Pitino had signed on to coach the Michigan Wolverines.

Pitino was recently a guest on Sirius XM’s “Basketball and Beyond” radio show where he discussed how in 2001 he backed out at the last minute of a deal with Michigan to join the Cardinals.

“The day that I committed to Louisville, I signed an agreement to be the next head coach of Michigan and I was fired up to be the coach at Michigan,” Pitino said. “The athletic director at the time, who’s no longer there (Bill Martin), was playing squash and my wife came up, she just didn’t want me to go to the west coast, UNLV, and be away from the children. She agreed, okay let’s go to Michigan.”

Pitino continued the discussion with his wife, who questioned if Pitino was scared of Louisville because he’d have to go back to Kentucky. Having coached the Kentucky Wildcats from 1989-1997 before taking a coaching job in the NBA, Pitino returning to the state of Kentucky wouldn’t come without drama. Especially joining the Wildcats biggest rival and adding a lot of fuel to the fire for the yearly “Battle of the Bluegrass” games between the schools.

Aside from location, looking at it from the school’s success point of view Pitino would be replacing Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum at Louisville. Crum had tremendous success with the Cardinals leading them to two NCAA Championships and finishing with a record of 675-295 in his 30 years with the school. Replacing Crum wasn’t going to be easy for anyone, even for Rick Pitino.

Over at Michigan, the school was about to have its third coach in four years. With booster scandals hovering over top and coaches losing full seasons from the official records.

Ultimately, Pitino and his wife decided that Louisville would be a better situation and tried to track down Martin to inform him that Pitino was backing out. However, Pitino couldn’t get a hold of Michigan’s athletic director because he was playing squash and refused to be disturbed unless it was an emergency. Therefore, Pitino did what anybody does when they have to call someone and tell them something they know the person isn’t going to like. He left a message.

“I tried to call the ADs at Michigan between 12 and 1,”Pitino said. “I had a false name. I would give him a fake name and he would call me back. I couldn’t get a hold of him because he was playing squash. The secretary said he demands that he doesn’t get interrupted unless it’s an emergency and if you want you can leave a voicemail. I left a voicemail and went to Louisville and I’m really happy I did.”

Michigan would hire Tommy Amaker as coach and he would only last six seasons with the school, never making the NCAA Tournament. It’d take until 2008-09 for the Wolverines to return to the big dance led by current coach John Beilein.

In eleven years with Louisville, its only missed the tournament twice. Including two trips to the Final Four.

It’s no wonder Pitino is really happy he chose Louisville.