Pitino, Minnesota seek more progress in 6th year at program

Published 8:02 am Wednesday, March 20, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS  — Minnesota has had no bigger fan over the last six seasons than coach Richard Pitino’s father, with Rick Pitino taking plenty of opportunities along the way to support his son, advise the players and just plain root for the Gophers .

That was before they were paired against Louisville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Ah, but Rick Pitino won’t be behind the bench in a maroon-and-gold sweater singing The Minnesota Rouser fight song Thursday when the No. 10 seed Gophers face the No. 7 seed Cardinals. He has his own professional team in Greece to coach, with the Euroleague season winding down.

Email newsletter signup

“My wife and kids will be there. My brother will be there. My cousin may go,” Richard Pitino said. “People have jobs and other things as well.”

So, no, this game isn’t about exacting some measure of revenge for the sake of the family on the school that fired his dad.

The pairing immediately produced a hearty portion of sports talk-show content, sure. The soap-opera fans in the crowd would relish the tension of Rick Pitino cheering for victory over the program he led to a national championship in 2013, a title later vacated because of a team dormitory sex scandal. The federal investigation that linked Louisville to a bribery case led to his ouster in 2017 .

For Richard Pitino, though, this game against a Cardinals team for which he served two stints as assistant coach under his father will be about trying to keep up the progress the Gophers have made this month at the end of another uneven season.

“I’ve got little kids. I like it here. Dehumanize it as much as you want, but I want to be here,” Pitino said Wednesday before the Gophers left for Des Moines, Iowa. He acknowledged wincing at times this season upon seeing or hearing his name on the “hot seat” lists of coaches who could be fired without an NCAA Tournament appearance. Ultimately, his future will rest with athletic director Mark Coyle, the third boss Pitino has had in six years.

“I don’t know if it’s true or not. I didn’t want to ask Mark,” Pitino said.