Mar 11, 2013; Hot Springs, AR, USA; Florida International Panthers head coach Richard Pitino reacts during the championship game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Summit Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
We’re approaching the six-month checkpoint of Richard Pitino’s coaching tenure at the University of Minnesota. He hasn’t coached a game yet, but we can already see that Pitino is an upgrade.
What’s the conclusion at the first checkpoint? Pitino’s leadership ability will bring success to Minnesota.
Pitino came to Minnesota with a vision of trying to start a movement. He’s trying to make Minnesota an elite basketball program and a perennial contender in the Big Ten. With his attitude, communication capabilities and focus on player development, he has the chips in place.
The day Pitino arrived in Minnesota, he talked about his opportunity here like he was just hired by Duke or Kentucky. Minnesota was not a highly sought after job when it opened up after our departure from the NCAA tourney. His positivity then and throughout his first six months has really gotten the fan base behind him and, from what I can tell, his players as well.
I don’t want to knock Tubby Smith but watching him interact with his players, you didn’t see many relationships develop. In order to win games, players and coaches have to mutually believe in each other.
I remember hearing Tubby in press conferences late last season, as the Gophers crashed and burned following a very impressive start, shrug his shoulders and deflect the blame to his players. I believe a coach should hold players accountable but also work to keep their confidence up.
I love how Pitino uses social media, whether on his blog to connect his players with the fan base. At times he is critical but never chastising, and always with the intention of reinforcing his mission. His social media communications are getting more out of his players, building the support of the fan base, and obtaining positive national media exposure.
Finally, the aspect of Pitino that excites me most: his focus on player development will pay dividends. Pitino has implemented one-on-one sessions with his players to develop skills most pertinent for each individual player. Pitino knows what he needs to get out of his team and the individual attention each player will receive will not only help them develop their skills to be successful on the court but also further develop a relationship with his athletes to create a winning atmosphere.
No one really knows what we’re going to get out of this year’s Gophers. I’ve heard talk ranging from an NCAA tournament birth to finishing last in the Big Ten. Regardless, I expect Pitino’s players to buy into his system and play with a chip on their shoulder.