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Coach Pitino brings optimism, recruiting focus

Richard Pitino, 30, signed a six-year deal for $1.2 million annually.
The Gophers new basketball head coach Richard Patino answers questions during a press conference Friday, April 5, 2013, at Williams Arena.
Image by Jaak Jensen
The Gopher’s new basketball head coach Richard Patino answers questions during a press conference Friday, April 5, 2013, at William’s Arena.

The University of Minnesota turned a press conference into a pep rally Friday morning as it announced Richard Pitino as its new men’s basketball coach.

The pep band, Goldy Gopher and more than 100 fans circled Williams Arena’s raised court to welcome the 30-year-old coach to replace 61-year-old Tubby Smith.âĨâĨ

“When this job opened, I certainly was hoping an opportunity would present itself because this is one of the best jobs in college basketball,” said Pitino, the son of legendary Louisville coach Rick Pitino. “The fact I was even being considered is a dream come true.

“I think the sky’s the limit here, I really do,” Richard Pitino said.âĨâĨ

Pitino’s hiring ended a week-and-a-half-long coaching search after Smith’s six-year tenure ended March 25. Smith was fired less than 24 hours after the Gophers’ loss to Florida in the NCAA tournament’s round of 32.âĨâĨ

“I have been in a whirlwind for the last 10 days,” athletics director Norwood Teague said.âĨâĨ

Pitino agreed to a six-year contract worth about $1.2 million per year with Minnesota. His contract includes annual raises, incentive pay for Big Ten and and additional pay if his players reach certain Academic Progress Rating and GPA benchmarks.âĨâĨ

Pitino’s annual base pay starts at $500,000, with $700,000 in supplemental pay. Smith’s contract paid him $1.2 million in supplemental compensation alone.

Smith’s base pay was $729,304, making him the highest-paid University employee last year.

Pitino will owe the University $1.5 million if he resigns by April 30, 2016, and $500,000 if he resigns after that.

If the University fires Pitino without cause, it will owe him all of the supplemental compensation and half the base salary remaining in his contract.

With a similar gusto to his 60-year-old father, Pitino answered questions fluidly about recruiting, the up-tempo pace he’s looking to bring and the Gophers’ future.âĨâĨ

“Our style of play is going to be fun to watch,” Pitino said. “I think you guys are really going to enjoy it. It’s going to be a style that the kids like to play.”

Pitino preached a style of play similar to his mentors Rick Pitino and Florida head coach Billy Donovan.

The young Pitino worked for three years under his father and two years as an assistant under national champion coach Donovan. His season at Florida International marked his only college head coaching experience.

“It will be a lot of pressing,” Pitino said. “We’re going to press on every possession, every make. We’re going to create offense from our defense.”

Gophers basketball players sat in the front row as Pitino talked about their futures.âĨâĨ

“It always takes time when you introduce a whole new style of play,” Pitino said. “None of these guys have played under it, so it’ll take a little bit of time.”âĨâĨ

Teague has said he will soon unveil a facilities master plan for the University in which a men’s basketball practice facility is a top priority.

Pitino said he’s not worried about the timeline of facility additions because he feels the University has enough to offer now to recruit.âĨâĨ

“When I look around this place, we’ve got plenty to win at a high level,” Pitino said. “The practice facility will come, and when it does, it’ll be great.”âĨâĨ

Neither Teague nor Pitino can comment on specific recruits per NCAA rules, but Pitino said he would look for the “right fit” and not necessarily try and bring back recruits like Chicago De La Salle senior Alvin Ellis.

Ellis committed under Smith for 2013 and reportedly withdrew his commitment last week.

Recruiting is a focal point for Teague and Pitino, evident by private jet use in Pitino’s contract that was not in Smith’s contract.âĨ

“The University agrees to fly Coach by private (non-commercial) aircraft when coach is making recruiting visits or for other, mutually-agreed upon, University business that is located more than two-hundred miles from the University campus,” Pitino’s contract reads.

Pitino is not allowed to exceed $50,000 per year in private jet costs, per the contract.

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