ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

It's Our Turn: Gophers' coaching decision makes perfect sense

University of Minnesota men's basketball fans should have seen this coming. The track record of Athletic Director Norwood Teague indicated it was coming and the current state of Gophers' basketball all but guaranteed it. That's why the hiring of ...

University of Minnesota men's basketball fans should have seen this coming.

The track record of Athletic Director Norwood Teague indicated it was coming and the current state of Gophers' basketball all but guaranteed it. That's why the hiring of a young up-and-coming coach like Richard Pitino, son of legendary coach Rick Pitino, should come as no surprise.

The Gophers were never going to get a big name who had already established himself. Fans wanted to believe they could. We were convinced that Teague and Associate Athletic Director Mike Ellis were so connected in college basketball circles that they could pluck someone like Shaka Smart from VCU.

It sounds like Smart was the first guy they called, but I have a hard time believing that Teague didn't already know he wasn't coming. He all but admitted that at the press conference to announce the firing of Tubby Smith.

"We are going to look for the right fit for the program," Teague said. "Doesn't have to be the candidate that everybody thinks we should get. It's going to be the right fit for our student athletes."

ADVERTISEMENT

Teague and his staff then went into hiding as rumors swirled on possible candidates. First it was Smart, then Brad Stevens. Flip Saunders was supposedly a sure thing at one point. In the end, they grabbed a coach that no one saw coming but one that makes perfect sense when you look at this administration's history.

Teague picked former VCU and current Alabama head coach Anthony Grant off Billy Donovan's staff at Florida in 2006. Three years later, he went back to the two-time national championship winning coach and grabbed Smart to replace Grant. Now Teague has gone back to Donovan a third time, gambling on the theory that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Pitino worked his way up at lower-level jobs before working as an assistant under his dad at Louisville and Donovan at Florida. In his one year as a head coach, he took over a Florida International team with just three scholarship players when he arrived and brought it to within a few points of an NCAA tournament bid.

The Sun Belt Conference is in a different world than the Big Ten, but this hire isn't just about his last name. Pitino built his resume as an assistant under two coaches with four national titles between them. He then proved he could come into a terrible situation at FIU and turn it around in one year.

Could Teague look like a fool four years from now for hiring a 30-year-old to compete against the likes of Tom Izzo? Of course. But no sure thing was going to take over this program. Not without a practice facility in place and one of the oldest arenas in college basketball as its home court.

That's the reality of the situation right now. Teague wasn't going to get Shaka Smart. What he needed to do was try to identify the next Shaka Smart. Now we have to wait and see if he's done that.

    "It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

    Opinion by Eric Morken
    Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
    What To Read Next
    The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
    This week in history in Douglas County.
    This week in history in Douglas County.
    The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.