ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Fielding questions about his father is nothing new for New Mexico coach Richard Pitino.
“It’s been 40 years of answering dumb questions about my dad, so you guys get a free pass,” Pitino recently told a group of journalists ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Iona, coached by Rick Pitino.
The elder Pitino, of course, is no ordinary papa — or head coach for that matter.
Rick Pitino led both Kentucky and Louisville to national championships and has amassed more than 800 college victories. Along the way, he also coached the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks. He was let go from Louisville in 2017 after the men’s basketball program was part of a federal investigation into alleged bribery of recruits.
Now the Pitinos will be on opposing benches for just the third time. Richard Pitino is 0-2 against his father. Both losses came when the elder Pitino was coaching Louisville.
“I think it’s going to be a big treat for the players,” Rick Pitino said in his postgame news conference following a win over Princeton. “They’re going to have 13,000-14,000 fans. And I told them this, ‘Rich is going to want to beat us by 30, 30.' He’s not going to say, ‘I’m going to take it easy on dad.’ And the reason he’s going to try and beat us by 30 is I taught him that way.”
Richard Pitino, in his second season with the Lobos after being fired following a 54-96 regular-season record over eight years at Minnesota, said the game really has nothing to do with the father-son matchup.
“Yes, it’s an interesting story line, me versus my dad,” he said. “But if you were at our practices, if you were at our film sessions, you wouldn’t know who the coach of the opposing team was. It’s business as usual for us."
For the Lobos, that business means trying to extend their 10-game winning streak to open the season.
“All I care about it that the Lobos find a way to get a win,” Richard Pitino said.
And dad, well, he would have no qualms about hanging an L on his son’s program behind the 7-2 Gaels. He's entering his third season at Iona, a private Catholic university in New Rochelle, New York.
“I’m very, very proud of him and love him to death,” said 70-year-old Rick Pitino. “And he knows he’s not coaching against me, he’s coaching against Iona. And he knows how much I want to win. And even more so, how much I hate to lose.”
The pairing is a good chance for both programs to raise their profiles.
“I understand it’s a storyline but it has nothing to do with the game,” Richard Pitino said. “I scheduled it because I wanted the exposure for our program as we rebuild it.”
It was also a way to create some excitement among local fans who had grown increasingly lukewarm to the Lobos after years of passionate embrace.
In that respect, Richard Pitino said it absolutely has been a success, perhaps even more so than he anticipated.
“When I took the job, I was concerned, as everybody is, when you’re down and coming out of a pandemic, of bringing the fans back,” he said. “So that’s why I did it and it’s certainly proven to be something that the community has been excited about."
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