On Wednesday, Rick Pitino “officially” announced his retirement from coaching.
The declaration was made multiple times during several of the at least nine media interviews Pitino conducted while promoting his new book, Pitino: My Story. Those interviews, it should also be noted, all took place just two months after Pitino “officially” announced he would never be conducting another interview.
For Pitino’s critics, the previous sentence is pile-on evidence of a habitual liar continuing to do what he does best. For those more sympathetic to the Hall of Famer, it’s a man with a history of getting caught up in the moment during interviews once again speaking in absolute terms on matters he hasn’t fully thought through.
After Pitino’s retirement avowal had already made national headlines, he was handed a life vest and presented with the opportunity to swim away from the vast sea of uncertainty he had steered himself towards.
Do you really mean this? Or is this just another one of those statements?
“No, I mean it,” Pitino told SB Nation. “I’ve thought about it. I wanted to jump back (into coaching) last year. I missed it terribly. I didn’t get depressed, but I didn’t know what to do with myself. I can’t play golf very well, I can’t exercise for 10 hours every day; so I was in my gym shorts from 6:45 to 6:45 at night wondering what to do. I missed it terribly.
“But I see what’s gone on, what has been said, and I realize that I’m not going to be hired, because this FBI investigation is taking forever. They’re the ones that exonerate you, but they don’t ‘exonerate’ you. They just don’t indict you. They never come out and say, ‘well we’re sorry for putting your name in a complaint, that was wrong of us to do that.’ All they say is, ‘hey, we deal with collateral damage all the time, too bad that your career got ruined.’”
OK, but what if a respected Division I program a year or three from now decided they didn’t care about all that. Didn’t care about the FBI investigation, didn’t care about the stripper scandal that led to the vacation of Louisville’s 2013 national championship, didn’t care about Pitino’s harshest critics in the media and the sporting public. What if that program came to Pitino and said it was time for one last hurrah, for a shot at a sendoff more fitting for one of the most successful coaches in the history of college basketball.
If all that happened, would Rick Pitino stay true to this “retirement?”
“Nobody’s going to say that. That’s not going to happen. It’s got a nice Cinderella pitch to it, but it’s not going to happen. I’m realistic. It’s not going to happen.”
Except that it’s probably going to happen.
None of the other coaches who were hit by the FBI’s initial detonation last September wound up being knocked to the ground. In fact, outside of Arizona’s Sean Miller, there’s an argument to be made that all of them currently sit in a stronger position than they did 12 months ago.
Auburn’s Bruce Pearl was given a five-year extension in June and is about to coach a preseason top-10 team. USC’s Andy Enfield is recruiting at a higher level than he ever has before, and currently has the top-rated 2019 class in the country. Jim Larranaga guided Miami to a No. 6 seed in last year’s NCAA tournament, and signed a two-year contract extension in April.
Mark Gottfried only got tied into all of this after he had already been fired by NC State for not winning enough games, and he already has a new gig as the head coach at Cal State Northridge. One of Gottfried’s first moves after landing the job was to call Jim Harrick — who hadn’t worked as a college coach since being fired by Georgia in 2003 for NCAA violations — and offering him an assistant position. Harrick accepted.
Jerry Tarkanian worked again. Kelvin Sampson worked again. Tim Floyd worked again. Jim Calhoun is working again. Mike Jarvis worked again. Larry Brown worked liked five times again. Hell, Dave freaking Bliss worked again. In a recent poll of 100 current college basketball coaches, a majority stated they believe that Rick Pitino will also work again.
If it eventually comes to light that Pitino’s involvement in the issues at Louisville was, in fact, limited to hiring the wrong people a couple of times and not having enough control over them, then it’s not hard to envision a program of relatively solid stature extending to him the same lifeline that was extended to all those other names. If the details are a bit murkier than that, well, it’s still not overly difficult to picture the same sequence of events coming to pass.
Pitino wants you to think that he’d say “no” in this situation, that by that time he will have finally found something better and more fulfilling to do with his time. He also wanted you to think two months ago he would never do another interview. He wanted you to think every opening opponent Louisville faced in the NCAA tournament was the “toughest first-round opponent” of his coaching career. He wanted you to think, in 2011, that he was going to be done with coaching in 2017, but on his own terms.
So take Pitino’s most recent decree for what it’s worth. History says that probably isn’t very much.