William Shakespeare said it best when he posed the question, “What’s in a name?” during his famous tale of Romeo and Juliet. Apparently, for the Minnesota Gophers, a name can go a long way. At least, that is the perception being circulated after the Gophers announced they have hired Richard Pitino as the next head basketball coach at the University of Minnesota.
While the name Pitino should sound familiar due to the fact that Pitino is the son of legendary coach Rick Pitino — who is currently the head coach at Louisville — don’t let the name fool you into thinking that the Gopher’s Pitino is riding off the coat-tails of his father’s work and legacy. That assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
The younger Pitino was formerly an assistant of his fathers from 2007-2009. During the 2011-2012 season, he seemed to have embraced his father’s playing style of forcing turnovers and putting pressure on the opposing team for 40 minutes of havoc. The younger Pitino has also been known as a tireless recruiter and if you couple that with his coaching style, the Gophers appear to have hit a homerun with this “under the radar” hire.
In his first year at Florida International, Pitino led the Golden Panthers to an 18-14 record and within one game of the NCAA Tournament. In addition, he accomplished these feats while only having three scholarship players on the roster.
However, for every good thing that happens to the Gophers, there is always speculation of what bad thing may follow it. Think about the circumstances: the Gophers are hiring Pitino as a young and energetic coach at age 30. His last name has staying power in the game of basketball and it just so happens that his dad is only a few years away from retirement; so put all of the pieces together and what do you get? You get a situation that has Pitino using the Gophers’ job as a stepping stone to his ultimate goal: take over for his father.
Let’s not be naïve enough to think that Pitino would want to stay and build something in Minnesota because the job, as it currently stands, is not one of the premier jobs in college basketball. Williams Arena is aging and there currently is no practice facility to draw in big-time recruits who can help the Gophers compete in the Big Ten; so what incentive would there be for Pitino to stay with the Gophers instead of a larger and more lucrative basketball program?
Pitino will be the tireless recruiter that his father was and he will inherit a talented team left by former coach Tubby Smith. I also predict that he will be fortunate enough to land one of the big recruits from Minnesota in Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis. The combination of these events will lead to enough success at Minnesota for Pitino that larger programs will be calling in two or three seasons. At that point, his father will retire from Louisville and voila, Pitino will too be gone.
While I hate to paint this dire picture, it seems to me like this could be the devastating circumstances the Gophers are getting themselves into. However, if Pitino does succeed over his next few seasons with the Gophers and fills the roster with talent, the Gophers head coaching job could become more appealing to the next coach who the team will attempt to hire. If that were to be the case, I would say that this hire should be considered a resounding success.
It may be a cynical outlook to put these claims upon Pitino before he is even introduced as the head coach of the Gophers, so I sincerely hope that Pitino proves me wrong. Unfortunately, my gut feeling tells me that the Pitino and Gophers story will end up just like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: a tragedy.