Mar 11, 2013; Hot Springs, AR, USA; Florida International Panthers head coach Richard Pitino during the championship game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Summit Arena. Western Kentucky defeated Florida International 65-63. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
It took Athletic Director Norwood Teague and the Gophers nine days to find a replacement for Tubby Smith.
In that time, at least three major programs filled their vacancies — Northwestern, UCLA and USC.
Now that the search is finally over, we look back at the process that got us to the hiring of Richard Pitino.
The Hire: B
We give the hiring of Richard Pitino the most average of a passing grade because while Pitino shares the same blood as the legendary head coach Rick Pitino, the son of the Louisville coach has yet to fully establish himself.
Pitino’s first year as a head coach was this season, where he lead the Panthers to a 18-14 record in the Sun Belt Conference.
FIU also made an appearance in the conference championship game under Pitino’s leadership and improved upon a 8-21 record from the year before.
There’s certainly an upside to the hiring, but putting stake in a 30-year-old coach with one year of head coaching experience is risky for a program that just fired its 61-year-old, former national champion head coach.
All-in-all, the hiring of Pitino was a better choice than hiring an equally unproven coach in Andy Enfield — Teague made the right decision there, no doubt.
It’s unsure where expectations are with Pitino at the helm, but the B grade could quickly rocket into an A- even if the Gophers can stay at .500 in conference play next season.
If that happens, what it will mean is that the Gophers were able to find a younger replacement for Tubby Smith for likely half the cost.
Fan Expectations: A-
Nine days ago, a majority of Gopher fans were feverishly hoping Minnesota would land Shaka Smart.
Eight days ago, some fans were convinced Minnesota had indeed landed Smart (thanks Twitter).
But when the news broke that Smart had signed an extension with VCU, that news quickly turned into disappointment, but the despair didn’t stop there.
Seemingly one by one, the coaches that fans wanted to see hired turned down the job and by the beginning of this week, some were left to wonder if Minnesota was actually trying to hire a head coach at all.
The news of Pitino’s verbal agreement on Wednesday could have easily become a public relations disaster, considering the attitude directed towards Teague and his staff in recent days. But almost surprisingly, the fan base is happy with Richard Pitino as the new head coach.
While keeping the fans happy doesn’t translate into wins, it does afford Teague and Pitino peace of mind as they try and build a Big Ten contender for next season.
How did Teague pull off the hire of a dark horse candidate that some fans hadn’t heard of prior to Wednesday? By hiring a name synonymous with basketball success.
The Process: C-
Particularly in the last few days leading up to Wednesday, Teague appeared like a man with a broken plan.
While many applauded the firing of Tubby Smith a week ago, as one coaching candidate after another turned down the job, some of the same people started questioning whether Smith should have been fired in the first place.
Local and national media were calling Minnesota’s search embarrassing and fans were feeling the strain of uncertainty.
The Gophers even lost a prized recruit in Alvin Ellis because of the time it took to find a replacement for Smith.
Sure, the Gophers swung and missed at their top candidates before landing a coach fans appear to be happy with, but the process has had negative effects on the Gophers, including a hit in reputation and the loss of a recruit.