MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota has picked Richard Pitino, the son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, to take over for Tubby Smith.
Two people with knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press that Pitino engaged in negotiations with Minnesota officials on Wednesday, and one said a verbal agreement was reached in the afternoon. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been formally announced.
In his lone season at Florida International, Pitino led the Panthers to an 18-14 record, the school's first winning season in 13 years. He will turn 31 in September, fitting the profile of the young, up-and-comer that Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague has preferred to hire in the past.
Smith, who was fired last week after six seasons at Minnesota, was hired at Texas Tech on Monday.
While it's only been just over a week since Teague decided to part ways with Smith, who brought the Golden Gophers to three NCAA tournaments and delivered the program's first tourney victory since 1997 with a win over UCLA this year, the process of finding his replacement has proven to be a laborious task.
When Smith was first fired, the impression was that Teague and associate athletic director Mike Ellis — two men considered to have strong contacts in the college basketball coaching world — would go for a big name to bring a different energy into a program they felt had hit a wall.
But Shaka Smart, who was hired by Teague at VCU, and Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg parlayed interest from Minnesota into lucrative long-term deals to remain at their schools. Alumni and former NBA coach Flip Saunders turned down an offer to coach them last weekend, and they reportedly swung and missed at several other candidates as well.
In the end, Pitino's pedigree and connection to another premiere coach in Florida's Billy Donovan may have sealed the deal. Teague hired Smart off Donovan's staff, and the charismatic young coach took VCU to the Final Four. Before Smart, Teague worked with Anthony Grant, another former assistant of Donovan's.
In addition to working with his father at Louisville, Richard Pitino also served briefly on Donovan's staff with the Gators. He also knows a little something about replacing a big-name coach.
"The great thing about Billy and my dad, they're always willing to give me advice," Pitino told The Associated Press in February. "They understand where I'm at. I call Billy every single day, almost like I call my dad, and I'm so appreciative that they give the time to try to teach me. It's so exciting. For me, I can't try to be Billy Donovan, I can't try to be Rick Pitino. I've got to be my own man and play my own style, and it's been fun trying to figure it out."
Pitino was hired last year to take over the Panthers, who never got going under NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. He inherited a program that was short on talent and long on academic problems, but was credited with helping instill a renewed focus to performance in the classroom during his short run with the Panthers. They went 11-9 in the Sun Belt Conference, the most wins since joining the league in 1998-99.
Smith is greatly respected for his work at Tulsa, Georgia and, most notably, Kentucky, where he won a national championship in 1998, his first season after replacing Rick Pitino. He was able to restore Minnesota to respectability, but was fired having never finished with a winning record in the Big Ten.
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