|Rich Pitino, new with the U (MPR photo)|
Let's suggest risk and raw as the operative words here.
We have seen a wave of attention for this story in the last few days. It affirms a point I made, or rather borrowed from George Will, last week. The Star Tribune treats this story with an overwhelming gravity. The U hires a new men's basketball coach.
The first edition to trumpet this put forth a fair amount of skepticism. Then, as if to backpedal, the "party line" optimism took over. No newspaper can risk being seen as arrogant or skeptical anymore. So now we're fed the party line about how Pitino, not to be confused with Rick Pitino who's the genuine, guaranteed-not-to-tarnish deal, is the proper and brave choice.
Instead of "risk" it's "reward." Instead of "raw" it's "hungry."
Unlike a newspaper I have no parochial constituencies to answer to. I can look at the emperor and see his clothing is minimal.
A big-time college athletic program doesn't really sell wins, it sells hope. We live in a new age in which people's attention span is whittled down. Way, way down. We yawn quickly when we sense an athletic program "isn't headed in the right direction." That won't do for long.
Since everyone cannot win, we see the tired routine of once-ballyhooed coaches who stagnate and then have to be shown the door. Often this is with a very sobering buyout figure ($2.5 million for Tubby Smith).
I'm not sure how much people really care about those buyouts anymore. They have come to be seen like numbers on a piece of paper, only. The same with other elements of largesse at our U of M. The Strib does an occasional expose on such matters. The Regents give knee-jerk quotes about how they ought to be paying more attention. But it seems the status quo persists.
I'm glad the Strib at least tries.
Richard Pitino has been a head coach for just one season. He's a mere 30 years old. These "young and enthusiastic" qualities could meet a brick wall from the elite coaches of the Big 10, who are noboby's fool. Don't think the intangibles of youth are any match for that.
We were sold the value of a proven commodity when Tubby Smith came here.
Rich leaves his job at Florida International. We learn that his team ranked 48th in the nation in pace of play, while our Gophers were 278th. Numbers can be trotted out to tout any coach. Again, Pitino's Big 10 competition is going to be quite savvy to counter any scheme the young man draws up.
We read so many cliches at a time like this. The departing coach is old news - a tired old subject. It's in no one's interest to talk him up. I wish Smith well at Texas Tech.
Smith's team here indeed had a spotty quality. But take a look at some of the "up" aspects. The Gophers got ranked No. 8 in the nation once. We beat the No. 1-ranked team at "the Barn." He made the NCAA tournament round of 32.
Oh, I certainly know there were negatives. The Big 10 is a wild and woolly place in which there are bound to be more negatives awaiting for our beloved rodents. As the witches said to Perseus regarding the task of getting the head of Medusa: "She's not going to give it to you."
Ol' Richie takes over a Gopher team that says adios to two of its top four scorers from a team that went 8-10 in league. We say adios to Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams. They were mainstays in the frontcourt. We'll welcome back Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins to the backcourt.
Rich's Florida International team went 18-14 last season. We can cite Rich's assistant coach background prior to the maiden voyage. Except that I put no stock in assistant coach background and credentials. Baseball author Jim Bouton was outspoken in saying that people in a winning program, below the top person, are no guarantee for spreading that quality elsewhere. It's a myth we can succumb to.
Winning head coaches have a quality as if infused from Mount Olympus. They have a vision like General Grant in the Civil War: "total war." The assistants just fill their roles, like John Gutekunst did under Lou Holtz. Holtz was the genuine article, verbiage included. Gutekunst was a caddy.
So we really have just one year on which to base our optimism about ol' Richie.
The predictable quotes do get tiresome. Does this stuff really work anymore? I mean, like "he's a great guy, knows what he's talking about." And, "he has a reputation as a tireless worker and active recruiter."
I'm scratching my head. Aren't these qualities a given for coaches in the Big 10?
Chip Scoggins of the Strib considers the U coaching job only the eighth best in the conference. We have to try to sell "the Barn" at least in part on the basis of its history, as if the walls could talk I guess.
Apparently there's a need for a practice facility. Smith harped on this, which would have been fine if he had won more. Winning makes everything palatable. If Bud Grant had lost, he would have been an idiot for not allowing sideline heaters.
Men's basketball at the U has some incidents in its past. There was a reason Jimmy Williams was blocked.
Norwood Teague and Mike Ellis are the puppetmasters bringing Rich Pitino here. Heaven knows what lists they went over. Heaven knows what names were activated and deactivated.
Scoggins judges Pitino a "risky hire." The scribe cites the young and unproven qualities. The new job is "an enormous leap for him," Scoggins writes.
Rich won't outwit anyone in the Big 10.
The Teague-Ellis tandem, Teague being the top guy, have the distinction of being the first to jettison the venerable Tubby Smith. They somehow allowed this firing news to reach the national media before it was reported to Smith. How slipshod. Perhaps that speaks volumes about where University of Minnesota athletics is headed.
We now have what Patrick Reusse calls "a 30-year-old former student manager with a famous surname."
I guess we'll run it up a flagpole and see if anyone salutes it. Opie Taylor at the helm.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org