The Richard Pitino era officially comes to an end

Mar. 15, 2021: The University of Minnesota and men’s basketball head coach Richard Pitino officially parted ways Monday night, the school announced.


BY: Tony Liebert


Immediate thoughts:

Richard Pitino is a great guy; he fit the Minnesota midwest culture perfectly and ran the Gophers program with class, but I think the timing was right to move on. Pitino finished his tenure with Minnesota 61-104 in the Big Ten Conference, a number that should never be okay. The amount of high school basketball talent in the state of Minnesota and the amount of in-state talent that has played for the Gophers is not acceptable. Most recently McKinley Wright putting together one of the best four-year PAC12 careers of all time for Colorado, and Jericho Sims dominating in the Big 12 Championship made me a little bitter as a Gophers fan. Wisconsin making the NCAA Tournament with six MN players on their roster, and the Gophers being left at home is embarrassing.

All-in-all the Pitino-era started with excitement resulting in an NIT Championship in his first season and ended with disappointment, finishing with two NCAA Tournament appearances and only one victory. The timing was right and the future is now.


Memories from the Pitino-era

Before we forget about Richard Pitino, let’s look at the memorable moments from the last eight seasons.

  • 2013-14 season: Andre and Austin Hollins carried the Gophers to an NIT Championship victory in Pitino’s first season. As a 19-year-old, I can say this was the most exciting moment of my Gophers basketball fandom, and for that reason is why Mark Coyle made the right decision.

  • 2014-2016: We won’t talk about this (26-38 record).
  • 2016-17 season: We began to see the development of Nate Mason into a superstar. Amir Coffey opted to stay home, giving Pitino his highest recruit ever. We also say Jordan Murphy becoming a star in his own right. Pitino led his best regular-season team, sporting a 24-10 record, earning a five seed in the NCAA Tournament. But like Pitino’s whole career in the Twin Cities, his team underperformed in March, getting upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Middle Tennesse State.
  • 2017-18 season: We saw Pitino bring in his second-highest out-of-state recruit Isaiah Washington (we all know how that went). The Gophers came into the season as the consensus number two team in the Big Ten but did not live up to expectations. Amir Coffey battled injuries all season, while Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy played at an All-Big Ten level. The Gophers still came up short missing the NCAA tournament.

  • 2018-19 season: Pitino brought in his best in-state recruiting class, with the trio of Daniel Oturu, Gabe Kalscheur, and Jarvis Omersa. In Amir Coffey’s final season with the team, he and Murphy led the Gophers to their only NCAA Tournament win under Pitino, a first-round victory over Louisville.

  • 2019-20 season:  Pitino had likely the best single-season performer of his tenure Daniel Oturu. The Cretin-Derham Hall graduate did his best to carry the Gophers to the NCAA Tournament, but as everything shut down, so did the Gophers’ tourney-hopes. Oturu would go on to become Pitino’s lone NBA Draft selection.

  • 2020-21 season: This year was the Marcus Carr show. We saw him develop into an All-Big Ten level guard. There were highs of being ranked as high as No. 16 in the country, and lows of finishing the season below .500 and out of postseason play.


Overall Richard Pitino was brought to the University of Minnesota with only one year of head coaching experience under his belt, and there were certainly great memories during his tenure. I would like to thank him for that and all he has done for the Minnesota program and I wish him the best of luck wherever he lands. (It looks like New Mexico is the projected spot).


What is next:

I had recently put together a list of potential candidates to replace Pitino, and man is there some interesting options. Most Gophers fans would hope for Brian Dutcher or Eric Musselman for familiarity reasons. Personally, my belief is that Musselman would likely stay with the Razorbacks, while I would also lean Dutcher staying with the Aztecs, although he would certainly be the much more attainable option.

Musselman has already led Arkansas to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament in only his first season with the team, it is hard for me to see him leave Fayettville after only one season. Arkansas has much more history than the average fan would realize, with one National Championship and six final fours, it has more long-term success than the Gophers. Would Musselman leave that after only one season?

Dutcher on the other hand has a 96-30 career record with San Diego State. He has made it known that the Gophers are an option, with a reduced buyout if he indeed comes to the Twin Cities. But I honestly don’t know if SDSU to UMN is that big of a jump. The Aztecs have become a serious west-coast power, and they consistently are a single-digit seed in the tournament. He has already had more NBA Draft picks and tournament appearances in four seasons than Pitino had in eight. I would like to believe that the Gophers are a higher-ceiling job, but I can’t speak for Dutcher.

Other names like John Beilein are fun to hope for, but I just don’t think the former Michigan HC is realistic.

Attainable names that stick out to me, are Niko Medved (Colorado St.), Craig Smith (Utah St.), and Dennis Gates (Cleveland St.). Medved and Smith are Minnesota-born, while Gates is one of the hottest names in the coaching landscape. All three are still in their 40s and have built programs that are still playing in the post-season. I believe all three options could be great fits with the program, and I could see a scenario where any one of them succeeds for the Marron & Gold.

Some long-shot names would be Darian DeVries, Porter Moser, Anthony Grant, or Ryan Saunders. I would imagine the first five names mentioned to be the most serious options, but hey I am not meeting with Mark Coyle, so what do I know.

From my point of view, I believe whoever takes over will need to recruit in-state. Players like Tyus Jones, Tre Jones, Matthew Hurt, Jalen Suggs, and Chet Holmgren were never going to the U no matter who was coaching. Guys who have had productive four-year careers at other schools like McKinley Wright, Reid Travis, Jericho Sims, and Theo John frustrate not playing for the Gophers frustrates me, as they all could’ve been great additions to any Minnesota team.

Minnesota is obviously not on the same level as Big Ten powerhouses like Michigan State, Indiana, and Michigan, so Big Ten title[s] are a bit optimistic, but there is no reason why Wisconsin or Iowa should be consistently out-performing the Gophers. Minnesota has more high school talent than both those states combined, and then some. The Barn is one of the most historic arenas in the conference and Minnesota has just built brand new facilities as well. There is no reason why this team should not be in the NCAA Tournament discussion every season.

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