Richard Pitino Fired as Minnesota HC After 8 Seasons; Went 14-15 in 2020-21

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2021

Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino watches during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Wednesday, March 10, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Minnesota has fired men's basketball coach Richard Pitino.  

"I recently met with Richard and told him that we were moving in a different direction," athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement. "Richard is a tremendous person and coach, and I want to thank him, Jill and their family for their commitment to Minnesota. We wish them well in their next endeavor."

According to Stadium's Jeff Goodman, Pitino is already a strong contender to land the vacant New Mexico job.

According to the Associated Press' Dave Campbell, Minnesota is on the hook to pay Pitino a $1.7 million buyout. The Star Tribune's Chip Scoggins noted it's unclear whether the buyout would apply if the 38-year-old immediately lands on his feet with the Lobos.

Pitino, the son of legendary college coach Rick Pitino, was only at Florida International for one season before moving north to Minnesota. The Golden Gophers showed early promise, winning 25 games and claiming an NIT title in 2013-14.

That proved to be the high-water mark of the Pitino era. Minnesota made the NCAA tournament twice, exiting in the first round in 2017 and falling to Big Ten rival Michigan State during the second round in 2019.

The program posted sub-.500 records in three of the last four years. So while Pitino wasn't a failure in Minneapolis, it was fair to wonder whether a change was necessary.

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The Athletic's Brian Hamilton laid out the drawbacks of the Minnesota vacancy, citing a lack of history, a market that gravitates more toward pro sports over the college game and plenty of surrounding schools to poach the best local talent.

It's not a total coincidence the Golden Gophers' greatest triumph of the modern era—a trip to the 1997 Final Four—was later vacated because of NCAA violations.

Coyle identified the right candidate to guide the football program with P.J. Fleck delivering an 11-win season in 2019. Perhaps he has a similar vision for the men's basketball team with the search for a new head coach now underway.