But neither the Gophers nor Pitino are about to apologize for who he is, or temper their confidence about what he can do at a program looking for a lift despite his limited prior experience.
“People ask me all the time, `Was it tough being Rick Pitino’s son?’ And it’s not. I’m extremely proud to be his son. I’m extremely fortunate to be his son. I embrace it every single day. I would be silly to hide from it. He’s a legend in this game,” said the 30-year-old Pitino at his introductory news conference Friday.
Smith was fired after six seasons, a 46-62 record in Big Ten play and one NCAA tournament victory. Pitino, who signed a six-year contract worth at least $1.2 million annually, a little more than half of Smith’s yearly compensation, has been a head coach for one season.
He guided a Florida International team gutted by transfers and academic ineligibility to an 18-14 record that was the school’s first winning mark in 13 years. He spent three seasons as an assistant at Louisville under his father, coach Rick Pitino, and two more at Florida under coach Billy Donovan.
When Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague sought advice from Donovan during the search, Pitino’s name popped up immediately. Donovan described to Teague the “relentless” and “merciful” pressure that Rick Pitino once put on both his son and Donovan when they worked separately on the elder Pitino’s staffs.
“I certainly embrace the fact that I’m young. I don’t try to hide from it,” Pitino said. “I’ve had great relationships with my players at FIU. I have still great relationships with the players at Louisville and Florida. So we go about it in a different way.”
Teague declined to comment when asked about other candidates who might’ve been ahead of Pitino in the queue. Shaka Smart, Fred Hoiberg, Brad Stevens, Flip Saunders, Andy Enfield and Mick Cronin were all mentioned in various news reports as being considered.
“We were very pleased with the search. It unfolded just like we wanted,” he said.
Pitino’s short resume didn’t deter Minnesota, but it did reveal one conflict, at least according to information still available Friday afternoon on team websites for Florida International, Louisville and Florida. The profiles credited Pitino with working at the College of Charleston during the 2004-05 season, and Louisville’s bio for him specified CC’s 18-10 record that year.
Pitino was only at the South Carolina school for three months the summer after the 2004-05 season, shortly after he graduated from Providence, Gophers spokesman Matt Slieter said. Pitino said, through Slieter, that this was an oversight that will be corrected.
Smith’s firing brought him a $2.5 million buyout, even with his hire a week later at Texas Tech.
In Pitino’s contract, if he’s dismissed without just cause but gets a comparable job elsewhere, Minnesota is no longer on the hook for a buyout. Pitino’s buyout would be half of his $500,000 base salary and all of his $700,000 annual supplemental compensation for the remaining life of the deal.
Also of note in Pitino’s contract: