MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Richard Pitino got right to the point: He promised a fast-paced style at Minnesota that the Gophers will love to play and the fans will love to watch.
The 30-year-old son of Rick Pitino was introduced Friday as the successor to Tubby Smith, who was fired 11 days ago after six seasons as Minnesota’s coach. Pitino agreed to a six-year contract worth at least $1.2 million annually. He coached this season at Florida International, his only year of experience in charge of a program.
At a news conference at Williams Arena, Pitino called Minnesota a place where he and his family hope to be “for the rest of our lives.” That rarely happens in modern college basketball, but possibility, hope and potential were the predictable themes at an event that was open to the public and had the feel of a pep rally.
“We’re going to press on every possession, on every make. We’re going to create offense from our defense. It’s going to be a style that the kids like to play,” Pitino said, adding as he addressed the fans: “So it’s going to be a great brand of basketball. I think you guys are really going to enjoy it.”
Pitino has plenty of knowledge to bring to the job even if his leadership has been limited. His father has taken Louisville to the Final Four this weekend in the latest of his many accomplishments. Richard Pitino learned under his father as an assistant for three seasons and two more under coach Billy Donovan at Florida.
“I think the sky is the limit for this place. I really do. We’ve got to do a great job of recruiting. It always starts with that,” Pitino said. “You’re playing in the best conference in college basketball and you’re going to school at one of the best universities. We have a lot to sell. We have plenty to sell.”
So what happens when father and son are trying to woo the same high school player?
“It’s game on. That’s the way I’m looking at it,” Pitino said, smiling. “Hopefully he fights fair, but I’m excited about it.”
The entire Gophers team, wearing matching white golf shirts adorned with the school logo, watched from the floor while Pitino spoke at the podium. Leading scorer Andre Hollins, a junior to be, said he believes everyone will be back. Transfers are common when coaches are fired, but there’s no indication any player is leaving.
“We’ve been kind of in limbo, just kind of waiting, just trying to see,” Hollins said. “There’ve been a lot of calls, a lot of people contacting us, trying to see what we’re going to do. But we just wanted to wait and see what Norwood had in store for us, and I think he made the right choice.”
Without any information released by the university during the search, the players were as much in suspense as the rest of the public.
“It was weird. I was telling people it was kind of like being at home and then having your parents leave and having a new set of parents come in,” Hollins said of the process of switching coaches. He added: “Coach Smith laid us the foundation down. We have to build on top of that.”
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