Don’t Fire Richard Pitino… Yet.

Photo: CBS Sports

Wow, another ‘Richard Pitino should or shouldn’t keep his job’ blog… I started this entire website, nearly 3 years ago to this day with one of these, so I always wax nostalgic when I revisit the topic.

Looking back on it now, my writing in that first blog could make a kid on cocaine fall asleep, but questioning Richard’s job status as the Minnesota Gophers Men’s Basketball Coach, is becoming a February staple, nonetheless.

  • HERE is me preparing to call for Richard’s job on 2/11/19
  • HERE is me calling for Richard’s job on 2/24/19

Last year at this time, I was in the same boat with Richard Pitino as where I am right now… I was watching skeptically. Then ON FEBRUARY 24, I was ready to pull the trigger after a really bad loss to Rutgers, who just started winning Big Ten games last year.

I thought it was all over for Richard, at that time. My blog is convincing too. Gabe Kalscheur shot 100% from the 3-pt line that night and only shot twice in the 2nd half. Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey were in the middle of slumps that had their prospects of playing NBA basketball, in jeopardy.

That was on February 24, 2019. The Gophers had put their dance shoes away, with only 3 games to play before the Big Ten Tournament. 2 of those 3 games were against ranked teams (Purdue and Maryland). The outlook was bleak…

Then they beat Northwestern a few days later, before upsetting (#11) Purdue. Suddenly, the Gophers were dusting off the dancing shoes. They stumbled @ (#24) Maryland to end the season so they needed a win in the Big Ten Tournament to cement a spot in the dance..

… so they got two (OT vs PSU and vs Purdue again). They ended up dancing as a 10-seed, where they upset Louisville in the first round, before losing to Michigan State in the round of 32.

Even with this late-season comeback story transpiring only one season ago, Gopher fans are ready to fire Pitino right now, again. The chatter is palpable at this point.

All of this heat is warranted. Richard Pitino needs to win basketball games and make tournament runs or he should not be the head basketball coach at the University of Minnesota. We need to raise our expectations so reality can follow… In other words, I might be calling for his job when this season is over too.

But this season isn’t over yet and you only have to look back one calendar year to see the comeback proof in Richard’s pudding.

Joe Lunardi (ESPN) still has the Gophers on the bubble, sitting in his “Next 4 Out” table, according to Marcus Fuller of the Star Tribune (new rankings aren’t out yet to public). Jerry Palm (CBS Sports) says the Gophers need to win 5 of 6 (before the Big Ten Tourney) and be 3-games over .500 to get back into the field.

The Gophers have the 2nd-most difficult schedule in the country, to finish the season. This is a blessing and a curse at the same time, just like their entire season’s slate has been. Winning tough games makes it easier to dance… but you still have to win them and not just play in them.

Wed, Feb 19 vs Indiana 8:00 PM – BTN
Sun, Feb 23 Northwestern 2:00 PM – BTN
Wed, Feb 26 vs 9 Maryland 8:00 PM – BTN
Sun, Mar 1 Wisconsin 5:30 PM – BTN
Wed, Mar 4 Indiana 6:00 PM – BTN
Sun, Mar 8 vs Nebraska 12:00 PM – BTN

It’s going to be very difficult for the Gophers to win 5 of these 6 games above, especially when half of them are on the road. Winning one of these road games would match their total on road wins this season. Yikes…

However, I counted Richard out too early last season and he came back to easily make the tournament and me look stupid. I won’t pull the plug on him too early again.

There is still plenty of light at the end of this tunnel… if the Gophers can find their shooting stroke. Shooting under 37%, like they did vs Iowa yesterday, would all but end this comeback conversation, though.

I’ve said it all season… if this team can find their shooting stroke, they can beat anyone, but they haven’t consistently found that all year.

I’ll say this as we close… I’m not sure I will call for Richard’s head, even if we do miss the NCAA Tournament. Even with his early struggles, there are a lot of positives with Ricky, and Mark Coyle sees that.

First (and possibly foremost), Richard wants to be here long-term. He likes it here and has a young family he wants to ground. Coyle doesn’t want coaches who are going to bail at their first big job offer. Pitino is a young coach who would get impressive offers, even if he leaves here on tough terms.

I’m just not sure the grass is greener on the other side of this conversation… especially if Coyle feels that way. But as I wrote over the weekend, In Mark Coyle We Trust.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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