Replacement Options for Richard Pitino

Photo: Brad Rempel - University of Minnesota

The Minnesota Golden Gopher men’s basketball team lost again on Saturday afternoon. That makes for 9 losses in their last 13 games. Richard Pitino’s team has gotten worse as the season’s gone on, even as their schedule has gotten easier.

Minnesota began Big Ten play with the toughest schedule in the country, playing EIGHT straight top-25 teams. They finished that brutal stretch with an impressive 4-4 record and made their own appearance in the top-20.

But instead of snowballing that momentum into a dominant second half, the Gophers have crappie-flopped themselves out of the NET top-50 and squarely into the NCAA Tournament bubble. Jerry Palm currently has Minnesota as one of his “First Four Out” teams.

With just four games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament, the Gophers are running out of time to collect the 17 wins they will likely need to make the NCAA Tournament next month.

If they miss the dance again… Richard Pitino can say goodbye to his job as the men’s head basketball coach at the University of Minnesota.

Candidates to Replace Pitino

Should the Gophers miss the dance, or if Mark Coyle decides to move on from Richard Pitino regardless, then there are a few intriguing options that immediately stick out as possible replacements.

I’ll list them from the LEAST to MOST likely hired.

Tim Miles | Career: 187-202 | Age: 55 | Current: Unemployed

Tim Miles would never be on this list if it weren’t for his local history. Now unemployed for two seasons, Miles started his head coaching career at Southwest Minnesota State before making a name for himself as the first DI head coach in the history of North Dakota State University.

He eventually left Fargo for Colorado State, where he coached for nearly 10 years before moving onto Nebraska, where he lasted seven seasons and was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2014-15. He only made one NCAA Tournament appearance in Nebraska, however, and his career coaching record is sub-.500. Miles is a long-shot and not someone I’d put my money on.

John Beilein | Career: 571-325 | Age: 68 | Current: Unemployed

John Beilein would be the top pick for many Gopher fans who watched him take the Michigan Wolverines on repeated deep Big Ten and NCAA Tournament runs over the last decade. He took the head coaching job with the Cleveland Cavaliers after the 2019 season and it was a complete and utter disaster.

So he’s back on the college market and looking to build himself another perennial power. If he was 10 years younger, he’d have a plethora of top jobs to choose from. But, that’s not reality. Instead, Beilein is coming up on 70 years of age and that’s a red flag for anybody hiring new employees.

Bob Richey | Career: 87-32 | Age: 37 | Current: Furman

Bob Richey would be my dark horse favorite. Richey is currently coaching at Furman University, where he’s completely dominated smaller-level competition since he took over in 2017. In his three seasons leading Furman, he’s gone for 23 wins, 25 wins and 25 wins. The Paladins are 15-7 in a shortened 2020-21.

I can guarantee you Mark Coyle has Bob Richey on his short list of possible coaching candidates. A lot of mannerisms remind me of PJ Fleck. He talks a lot about program culture and seems very detail oriented in the way he operates. If you scrub through this podcast he did last summer, just listening to bits and pieces, you’ll quickly hear what I’m talking about.

Eric Musselman | Career: 147-51 | Age: 57 | Current: Arkansas

Ah, Eric Musselman. Does the last name ring a bell? It should. His dad, Bill Musselman, coached at the University of Minnesota for 4 seasons, holding an impressive 61-32 record from 1971-1975. Bill was also the first head coach of the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves, holding the job for both the inaugural 1989-90 and the following 1990-91 seasons.

Eric is a fun-loving “players coach” whose nerdy, caring personality clearly hits home for those in his program. His career coaching record is breathtaking, outside of a couple rocky stints in the NBA where he is a career 108-138.

College Coaching Career (2015-Present)

Career (Outside NBA)
LeagueWinLossWin %
NCAA (’15-Present)14751.742
CBA (’89-’90, ’91-’97)270122.689
USBL (’95-’96)533.946
D-League (’10-’12)7730.720
Total (non-NBA)547206.726
NBA (’02-’04, ’06)108138.439

Outside of his time in the NBA, where he’s still had his moments — named NBA coach of the year runner-up to Greg Popovich in 2002-03 — everything Eric Musselman touches has turns to gold. As a college head coach, he’s recently turned around both the Nevada and Arkansas basketball programs, but that’s only his most recent history.

The CBA (Continental Basketball Association) is a historic basketball league, created 1946 and used as an NBA feeder system for twenty years, from 1980-2000. That was before Isiah Thomas bought the league for $10 million in 1999 and ran it into the ground in under two years.

Eric Musselman is a CBA head coaching legend. He’s still in the history books as the league’s youngest-ever head coach, taking the helm for the Rapid City Thrillers in 1989 at age 23. Musselman coached seven total seasons in the CBA and still owns the league’s 2nd-best winning percentage. Legendary coach, George Karl is the only CBA coach who won more often that Musselman Jr.

Success at College

Eric Musselman started his coaching career in the professional ranks, only to dive into the collegiate game over the past 10 years. As it turns out, developing young talent, before turning pro, could be his head coach calling.

Nobody even knew the University of Nevada had a basketball team before Musselman took it over in 2015. They went from 9-22 the year before he took over, to 24-14 in Eric’s first season. He’d go on to coach Nevada to three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances and a record of 110-34 in four seasons.

Then, Eric Musselman was offered a power-5 job at the University of Arkansas, where he has coached two seasons, both through a once-in-a-century pandemic. He’s currently 37-17 as Razorbacks’ head coach and his team is currently one of the hottest in the country entering March.

More than a coach

Musselman was a Continental Basketball Association general manager before he was the league’s youngest head coach. In fact, he was the first general manager to hire Flip Saunders as a head coach. Musselman was part of the LA Clippers front office under Elgin Baylor, even before that.

The born-and-raised Minnesotan has also coached successfully in international play and he’s held assistant coaching positions under NBA greats like Chuck Daly, Doc Rivers and Lon Kruger.

Eric Musselman has seen it all and he’s done it all. He seems like a wonderful fit for Mark Coyle and may have been subtly reminding the University of Minnesota AD of just that, when he rowed the boat for a pregame speech before his Arkansas team won a huge game over Florida last week.

Musselman is a Minnesotan who’d love to come here and someone who might want to stick around long-term even if successful. He is THE perfect hire and, whether they go dancing or not under Pitino this season, Coyle should make the move on Musselman after the March dust settles on 2021.

Of note, Eric Musselman’s buyout (according to at Arkansas drops SIGNIFICANTLY on May 1, 2021.

  • $5 million – Through April 30, 2021
  • $1.5 million – May 1, 2021 through April 30, 2022
  • $1 million – May 1, 2022 through April 30, 2024
  • $750,000 – May 1, 2024 through the end date of any extensions

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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