You’re a desperate athletic director. Your basketball program is in shambles. Wins are down, attendance in down, morale is down. The only thing up is the momentum gathering by the local booster club to buy out your contract.
You need help. You need a miracle.
Fear not, embattled A.D. What if I told you that a Hall of Fame coach is available right now to solve your problems? He’s a proven winner who is the only coach in NCAA history to win national championships at multiple schools.
Of course, there is a reason why he’s a free agent. He’s got baggage. But if you have no scruples, don’t mind media backlash, and are willing to make a Faustian deal to win at all costs, I have just the coach for you.
Hire Rick Pitino. That’s right. You can do it. There’s nothing legally to prevent any institute of higher learning from employing Pitino. He’s not under a show-cause penalty (yet). He has not been indicted nor is he facing charges as a result of the ongoing FBI basketball investigation.
Yes, he’s 65 years old, will have to sit out the first five games due to an NCAA suspension, and other major penalties might be looming like a guillotine. But right now, he’s hireable.
So why not risk it all and hire Radioactive Rick? Get the wins now. Deal the mess later.
Here are five schools that should make a play for Pitino:
St. John’s (11-13, 0-11 Big East)
Current coach: Chris Mullin
Last NCAA appearance: 2015
This makes so much sense. Pitino would be exactly what St. John’s needs: a brand name, legitimate coach in a market that understands him. Pitino’s ties here run deep. He is an New York City native and has at least one residence in the Greater NYC area. Pitino coached the New York Knicks in the late 1980s. He also knows the Big East, having coached in the league when he was at Providence and with the University of Louisville before it upgraded to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
St. John’s has great tradition, but its glory days occurred in the 1980s. It hasn’t been able to adjust to modern recruiting and no longer enjoys the advantages that built the program under Lou Carnesecca. Pitino might not be able to get the Red Storm to the Final Four, but he definitely could make St. John’s a perennial NCAA team. St. John’s hasn’t made consecutive NCAA trips since it went to three in a row (1998-2000) under Mike Jarvis.
The decision to hire Chris Mullin, who had no previous coaching experience at any all level, has been a disaster. Well, at least Mullin will always have that win over Duke.
Florida International (11-13, 5-6 Conference USA)
Current coach: Anthony Evans
Last NCAA appearance: 1995
Don’t laugh. This should sound familiar. Richard Pitino, Rick’s son, coached FIU for one season in 2012-13. He parlayed a run to the Sun Belt tournament championship game into getting his current gig at Minnesota. Why not bring in the elder Pitino, who has a home in Miami?
FIU has a history of employing troubled coaches. In April 2009, it hired Isiah Thomas who lost a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2007 when he was the coach of the New York Knicks. FIU also hired Butch Jones last year to coach the football team, despite Davis being fired from North Carolina because of an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct.
This might be the most non-descript program in Conference USA. The only time in recent memory that people paid attention to the Panthers is when Richard Pitino got them within a game of an NCAA automatic bid. Anthony Evans, in his fifth season, hasn’t been able to recreate the magic he had at Norfolk State when he led that program to an upset over Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Evans, who hasn’t even had a winning season, is in the final year of his contract.
Boston University (12-11, 8-4 Patriot League)
Current coach: Joe Jones
Last NCAA appearance: 2011
Reunited and it feels so good. The list of current college football coaches with multiple stints at the same school includes Kansas State coach Bill Snyder and Louisville’s Bobby Petrino. Both are coaching their respective schools for the second time. It doesn’t happen quite as often in basketball. Before Pitino made a name for himself by steering Providence to the 1987 Final Four, he was at Boston for four seasons. In his final season, he guided the Terriers to the 1983 NCAA Tournament.
Understandably, the might be some reluctance for Pitino to return to Boston – for multiple reasons. But it’s a school he’s familiar with. The Terriers have been competitive in the conference, winning the Patriot League as recently as 2014. (Boston was upset in the conference tournament championship game by American and had to settle for an NIT trip.). The last time Pitino was in Boston, he had a disastrous tenure with the Boston Celtics. If he wins this time, the city would embrace him.
Rutgers (12-14, 2-11 Big Ten)
Current coach: Steve Pikiell
Last NCAA appearance: 1991
One of the great mysteries in college sports is “Why isn’t Rutgers better at basketball?”
Rutgers being bad at football, I get it. It takes a lot of good players to have a good team. But in basketball, one great player can transcend a program and get you into the NCAA Tournament. The New York/New Jersey area is talent-rich. Just by accident, you should be able to stumble into some good recruits. Rutgers’ shot at being decent is even harder now that it’s migrated from the Big East to the Big Ten.
Steve Pikiell just received a contract extension last month. Rutgers is a win away from equaling its conference win total from last year. However, Pitino would obviously be a major upgrade. With the right support, he would be able to get the Scarlet Knights into the NCAA Tournament a lot faster.
Mississippi Valley State (2-22, 2-9 Southwestern Athletic Conference)
Current coach: Andre Payne
Last NCAA appearance: 2012
Really? Yes, really. There is absolutely no downside for the Delta Devils, who before last weekend had college basketball’s worst record in arguably college basketball’s worst conference.
Convincing Pitino to come to tiny Itta Bena (pop. 1,931) is going to take some creativity. The Delta Devils have very little money, which is why – like many SWAC schools – they play a ridiculous non-conference schedule.
Mississippi Valley State didn’t have a home game until January because it needed to travel to play road games with guaranteed payouts.
What can Mississippi Valley State offer? It should rename the school Pitino University. His family and descendants will receive lifetime free tuition.