New Mexico Basketball: Richard Pitino Named Next Head Coach
Former Gophers head coach heads to Albuquerque.
Richard Pitino named next Lobos head coach.
The University of New Mexico men’s basketball program has found their guy and he appears to be trading in a barn for a pit.
First broke by Jeff Goodman on Tuesday morning, the next New Mexico head coach will be Richard Pitino. The younger Pitino, 38, is young but has nearly a decades worth of experience as a Division-I head coach in one of the top conferences in the country.
— Lobo Basketball (@UNMLoboMBB) March 16, 2021
At Minnesota he has amassed a 54-96 record in Big Ten play — 141-123 overall — and took the Gophers to two NCAA Tournament Appearances and an NIT Championship.
That championship came in 2013-2014, year one in Minneapolis for Pitino after taking the program over from college basketball coaching great Tubby Smith. Pitino was coming off of his first year ever as a Division-I head coach the year prior.
In that first year he led the Florida International Panthers to a 18-14 (11-9, 3rd in the Sun Belt East) record after taking over for another basketball legend, Isiah Thomas. Thomas was fired after going 26-65 in three seasons in Miami. Though you may not consider Pitino’s one season at FIU a rebuild. He certainly had the program on the right path for their move to C-USA the following season before being picked up by the Gophers at age 30.
At Minnesota his best finish in the Big Ten came in 2017, as his Gophers finished in the season 24-10 (11-7 4th in Big Ten). They earned a No. 5 seed in the Tourney but lost early, 81-72 to Middle Tennessee State. Two years later in 2019, they went dancing again, this time as the No. 10 seed looking to do some upsetting.
They beat No. 7 Louisville 86-76 in the first round but lost 70-50 to conference foe and Final Four bound Michigan State.
After a 10-2 start to the season, 2020-2021 appeared to be a bounce back year for Pitino in Minneapolis. But injuries to several key players mid-season began a decline in which the Gophers would go 3-12 the remainder of the season and 1-1 in the conference tournament. With two near last place finishes in the conference, leadership at Minnesota decided it was time for a change.
One of my favorite pictures. Always wanted to represent Minnesota the right way on a daily basis with class and integrity. Thank you for a special 8 years. Fired up for what the future holds! pic.twitter.com/mUgM8Dpao9
— Richard Pitino (@CoachPitinoMN) March 16, 2021
As reported by Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal, the pay offered to Pitino should be around $775,000 annually in a contract that looks to be $4.5 million over six seasons. One stipulation in Pitino’s $1.7 million buyout at Minnesota is it becoming null in void when the head coach finds “comparable work” elsewhere.
Comparable work is defined in the deal as an NCAA Division I head coach, a head or assistant coach of a professional team, administrator or director of an NCAA Division I program or a commentator for a national broadcasting company. With the announcement this morning, Pitino was officially unemployed for less than 12-hours putting plenty of folks in the Minnesota Athletic Department at ease this morning.
Pitino is young but a great hire. He’s displayed a proven ability to build a program and at the end of the day New Mexico needs a rebuild. The Lobos began the 2010s with four NCAA Tournament appearances in five seasons under now Nevada head coach Steve Alford. That is this program’s ceiling and they need a coach who can take them there. While beginning to battle in the top half of very competitive Mountain West every season once again.
The job is a tough one, but has the potential to make it one of the best mid-major gigs and programs in the country. Pitino’s youth and experience should make for a great hire by New Mexico, but he will need to win once on the ground in Albuquerque.
Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.