At Odds w/Coyle Over Extension Terms, Richard Pitino Calling on Other Job Openings Around NCAA

Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino watches during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan in the semifinals of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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It’s been a big weekend for Minnesota and the Twin Cities, with the festivities of the Final Four flooding town. We always like showing off our state… unless you’re Richard Pitino..

You’d think that this would be a perfect stage to show kids who are watching, listening, and reading about all of the tournament coverage; how great of a place Minnesota is to play basketball. Hell, you just won a tournament game and your city is on fire, holding both a Super Bowl and a Final Four within 14 months of each other. There’s a lot of hope to sell.

But, outside of a few tweets from MOA, where he watched Jordan Murphy play in the 3v3 Tourney, Richard was nowhere to be found.

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Meanwhile, PJ Fleck is out here hosting major recruits (for a weekend that literally couldn’t be any better to do that), handing oars to all of the final four teams, and selling MN hope all over media row. Oh, and he has his coaches and captains doing corny videos to sell the Spring Game next weekend (which I am now mentioning in this article because of it). Oh, and then there are these quotes that turn me from 6 to midnight faster than a blue-chew-chewable.

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But there seems to be a lot more to Pitino’s distance this weekend than just another failed opportunity to be a better recruiter. After seeing some rumors floating around Twitter over the last 48 hours, I decided to jump over to to see what I could find out about the whispers that were connecting Richard Pitino to job openings around the country. In situations like this, there’s no place I’d rather be..

… and I should have been ready because I quickly found myself in a wormhole that shouldn’t be approached by the faint of heart…

The following has all been confirmed in multiple ways by people I trust both over at GI and elsewhere and it all leads to one place. Richard Pitino and the University of Minnesota are on VERY thin ice with each other at the moment and that ice could thicken back up… or give way to a cold break-up.

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When Richard Pitino made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament a couple of weeks ago, it was expected that he’d get a contract extension. That’s the way the college basketball world works now. It’s all based on recruiting and really only affects what is paid on either end, if the relationship goes sour. Raises in pay are usually involved too… especially when you win an NCAA Tournament game at a program like Minnesota. But… no such luck for the offer Pitino received, reportedly…

From what I’ve read/heard, it was a low-ball offer. The extension was for just one more year, with no significant raise for Richard and no extra money in the recruiting or assistant coach budgets. The offer seemed to move Pitino deeper into murky job-security waters and farther away from the safe shores of the comfy, big-raise extension that he was hoping for.

Apparently, it was the type of deal that said ‘You’d better make the tournament again next year or you’ll be packing your bags when it’s over.’ (a lot like this season felt like throughout)

Well, if you’re Richard Pitino and you see that shaky extension offer; then realize that the school’s all-time leading rebounder is graduating and your best all-around player hired an agent and declared for the early draft process… it’s difficult to feel safe.

And clearly, that’s how Pitino was feeling because he then picked up the phone and called Arkansas and Virginia Tech about their vacant head coaching positions, in search for possible offers with more security. Those were the first rumors I found on Twitter that got me into this whole sinkhole yesterday.

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It get’s better.

While Pitino was on the phone with other schools, another coach was making phone calls. Also in the running for the Arkansas job, a familar face landed on the Athletic Department line. In my own head, here is how that secretary-Coyle phone hand-off inside the AD office went (again, this part is pure [gold] speculation):

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— phone rings at UofM Athletic Department

SECRETARY: “Mark! It’s Eric Musselman on line 1!”

COYLE: “Tell him I’m busy and will call back! I told you, no calls this morning! I’m trying to get this shit figured out with Richard. He should have signed that shitty extension hours ago!” (murmurs under breath: I can’t wait to fire that little prick)

SECRETARY: “Eric says he needs to talk to you now. He says it’s URGENT!”

COYLE: “God dammit! I said can’t talk right now! Just ask him WTF he wants!”

(murmuring in the background from secretary as she gets message from Musselman)…

—secretary physically walks into room:

SECRETARY: “He said… he’d be…. VERY interested in our head coaching position… if it opens…”


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 –Side-note: I should write screenplays —

I’m not saying Musselman would be the right guy or that he would be Coyle’s first choice. However, this phone call definitely took place (probably not how I described it) and has all but been confirmed from what I’ve seen and been told. It’s all very intriguing.

So, where do things sit now?

It’s all been at a stalemate for around 48 hours. The ball is in Richard Pitino’s court. Does he sign the low-ball extension or does he look to move on, even if it’s a lateral move? It doesn’t look like Coyle will budge with more of what Pitino wants (likely more $$$ for everything) so that looks to be what the impasse has come to. If Pitino leaves, he’d have to pay a $2M buyout to the school and if he gets fired the school would have to pay the same thing to him.

From what I’ve gathered, Coyle isn’t likely to fire Pitino, where he’d have to pay the buyout and fight off the press, who would want to know why he fired a coach that just made it to the final 32…

… but I wish he would.

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In following all of this over the last 24-48 hours, there is one thing that I’ve come to realize: Richard Pitino is not Mark Coyle’s “guy”. If Coyle doesn’t trust Pitino, then he should foot the $2M, get his media face on, and pull the trigger on the canning. Why kill another season? Right now, the recruiting cupboards are… scattered at best. Let the new guy come in with 3 years left on our new MN Three while filling that cupboard with his guys.

I’m not one to post this sort of background story. Normally, I wait for it all to go public, where I’ll write something about it at that time. But, I don’t know if any of this will actually be reported on major outlets. This seems to have turned into quite the shit storm and everyone has entities to protect…. except for me.

Without more money in the assistant coaching budget, do we see more coaches leave, even if Richard stays? That would be two seasons in a row and Richard relies HEAVILY on his assistants for recruiting. One of his major drawbacks.

Don’t drag this into a Paul Molitor situation. Cut the cord and move on, Mark.

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Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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