Louisville’s Athletic Director Tom Jurich has either rewarded Pitino for last year’s Final Four run or unnecessarily gambled the school’s money hoping the coaching legend keeps interest into his seventies. The timing of the deal suggests both in this case.
Coming off back-to-back first round exits in the NCAA Tournament, Pitino began to talk last season about his plans to retire at the end of his contract in 2017. It wasn’t surprising for the coach to be considering retirement down the road. After all, he’d be 65 when the contract would expire.
Whether anybody believed he would retire is one thing but Pitino considering the thought wouldn’t surprise anyone. Plus the recent struggles and outside distractions had appeared to be taking its toll on the former National Champion. There was the extortion case against Pitino that was settled in August 2010. He had also taken heat for losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and quickly appearing on CBS’s March Madness panel. Some questioned if he should had put more focus on the team before jumping when the media called to help breakdown the games.
After the Cardinals finished the regular season ranked seventh in the Big East, they exploded for a massive run to finish off the 2011-12 season. Louisville would win four games in four days to capture the Big East Tournament for the fourth time under Pitino. The Cardinals would then make a run to the Final Four before losing to eventual champions the Kentucky Wildcats.
Louisville comes in as a favorite to be named National Champion at the end of this season, many have them predicted to repeat as Big East champions. With so much positivity surrounding Louisville, Jurich decided it was time to extend Pitino through 2022 when he’ll be 70 years old.
Makes sense right? Nope.
Trusting Pitino to remain with Louisville for the next ten years is a massive gamble for the school, as the man has a history for changing his mind on the fly. Before even accepting the job with Louisville he had to back out of a deal he had to coach the Michigan Wolverines, and he did that by leaving a voicemail message. He left a national title contender in Kentucky to pursue a job with the Boston Celtics where he had a losing record between 1997 and 2001. The Wildcats would win the NCAA Championship the season he left.
His hiring at Louisville wasn’t shy of controversy either as some believed long-time Cardinals coach Denny Crum was forced out to bring Pitino in. Crum had led the Cardinals to two NCAA Championships during a thirty year coaching career with the school.
Controversy seems to follow Pitino but you cannot deny his coaching success. Still, it’s hard to envision Pitino staying with Louisville and finishing with 20 years with the program. Especially after recent struggles that had him discussing retirement. What happens if the Cardinals don’t live up to the hype this season? What if they fall flat in the Big East Tournament or have a quick exit come March Madness? How long will it be before Pitino brings up retirement again?
Jurich talks about how Pitino has more energy than most people half his age and that he loves coaching these kids and that’s why he gave Pitino the contract extension. The truth is, had the Cardinals not gone on their run at the end of last year there isn’t a chance Jurich gives Pitino an extension this fall. There still isn’t even a good reason for doing it now, five years away from his current contract expiring. This loaded Cardinals roster will be long gone by then and who knows what the state of the program will be. Who knows what the state of the Big East conference will even be with strong programs leaving and smaller ones coming in to replace them.
There’s no question Louisville can hang around as the big fish in a small pond in the Big East, but if that’s what it truly becomes will Pitino be able to handle that? There were rumors over the summer he wanted the Cardinals to go to the Big 12, will his ego be able to handle a conference that gets weaker over the years? Not a chance, not for ten years anyway.
There’s no way Pitino sticks around to dominate a lesser conference while the SEC, ACC, Big 10 and Big 12 look down on him. Especially as he begins to watch schools formerly from his conference begin to have success in other conferences. Even if Louisville wins multiple conference titles, they’ll say it’s because the school has nobody to play against anymore not because of Pitino’s greatness in leading them.
Jurich should have waited a few more years to see where Louisville stands before giving Pitino the extension. He won’t be coaching much longer after 2017, not after he’s already thought about retiring around that period. The coach doesn’t have anything left to prove as it stands today, therefore he’ll lose the motivation to continue before he’s 70.
The only thing he could possibly have left to prove is winning a championship with Louisville, which would be nice but isn’t necessary to ensure his legacy and he knows it. In the event he does win a championship, his chances to retire early would increase immensely.
Pitino won’t be with Louisville in 2022, he just looked too comfortable on CBS’s panel to wait that long to get back.