Richard Pitino ready to make imprint as Division I coach at FIU

by | College Basketball Insider
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Richard (left): 'My name isn't going to get me any wins. But being my dad's son will help.' (US Presswire)  
Richard (left): 'My name isn't going to get me any wins. But being my dad's son will help.' (US Presswire)  

MIAMI -- Richard Pitino wakes up, gets ready for work and then meets his father for breakfast. It's not long before he's picking the brain of a future Hall of Famer, a man who has won a national title and has more than 600 victories on his résumé.

Then it's off to his new place of employment as the soon-to-be 30-year-old drives through Miami. He's got a 45-minute drive, at least while he occupies his father's plush Miami home and waits for his wife, young daughter and dog to join him in the house they purchased just a few miles down the road from the Florida International campus. He dials a 352 number and spends the next hour soaking up knowledge from another future Hall of Famer, Billy Donovan, a man who has a couple of national championships.

"Those are the two guys I've learned from," the younger Pitino said. "And I'm going to utilize both of them."

However, there is no shortage of Pitino skeptics -- no matter his bloodlines and connections. Richard Pitino is well aware of this. He hears the whispers and has no issue with those who maintain the sole reason he became a Division I head coach at the tender age of 29 is because of his father. He understands he hasn't paid his dues as has been the case with so many other D-I head coaches, but he also doesn't feel the need to apologize for it.

"I say it all the time," Richard said. "It's 99 percent good and one percent bad. It's opened so many doors for me. Now my goal is to make the most of my opportunity."

But this Pitino isn't like his father, with his upbringing, personality and coaching style all vastly different.

"I don't see a lot of similarities," Richard said between he and he father. "There's no way we can be similar with the way we were raised."

Rick's parents were rarely around when he was growing up while Richard was basically raised around Kentucky and Boston Celtics basketball. Richard had the best seat in the house as his dad went through the highest of highs in Lexington and then the lowest of lows in Boston.

"It was totally different ends of the spectrum," Richard said. "Nothing went wrong in Kentucky and then he was humbled in Boston. It was hard on him."

Pitino was a student at St. Sebastian's, living with his family outside of Boston, as he watched his father become crucified by the fans, media and even some players for his inability to turn the franchise around.

"It was hard for me," Richard said. "I went to every game and seeing them lose and people boo him like that was difficult. But it taught me a lot. He was never humbled until he went to Boston, but that was a dose of reality for him."

It taught Richard Pitino to keep an even-keel and not to allow outside influences to affect the task at hand -- which appears daunting at FIU. If the contrasting experiences at UK and Boston hadn't taught him, 2009 -- when his father's sexual relationship with Karen Sypher became a national story -- certainly helped him mature.

"The hardest thing was everybody knowing about it," Richard said.

Richard has always been considered a momma's boy, with Rick admitting that he's much more like his wife, Joanne.

"His feelings were really hurt," Rick said. "And his whole concern was to protect his mother, to make sure she was OK. He nurtured her, watched over her."

Shortly after the details became public, Richard left his assistant coaching spot at Louisville to work for Donovan at Florida. While it wasn't necessarily done to get Richard away from the ongoing saga involving his family, it was clearly the best decision for all involved. Richard didn't have to hear the relentless scrutiny, Rick didn't have to worry about his son dealing with it on a daily basis -- and Richard also learned a different way of doing things under Donovan.

"He made a mistake and he certainly paid for it," Richard said. "Abandoning my dad through all of that wouldn't have helped. But I really believe that because it was so public, it brought all of us closer."

Now, even when his father isn't down in Miami at his "other" home, Richard and his father talk multiple times every day. The topics range, but ultimately it always comes full circle back to basketball.

"The entire culture of the program has to be changed," Rick said of the FIU situation. "When I took over BU, that wasn't the case."

The son of a future Hall of Famer replaces a current Hall of Famer in Isiah Thomas, who was unable to make FIU relevant beyond the day he was hired back in 2009. Thomas won 26 games in three seasons and didn't leave much in the cupboard. Richard Pitino has already signed nine players since taking over and, while he is confident the talent has been upgraded, he also realizes it's going to take time to get the program to where it can compete for league titles -- especially since FIU is headed to Conference USA next season.

The younger Pitino will instill the same core values as his father: His teams will play with discipline and be in unbelievable shape. There will be plenty of differences, though. There will not be a weight program for his assistant coaches and he won't use a microphone to run practices.

"He's his own man," Rick Pitino said. "I'll give him certain suggestions, very strong suggestions, and they'll fall on deaf ears. He has great respect for what we do, but he's very stubborn and confident."

Richard is listening, though. But he is different. No one is aware of that more than his father.

"He's very competitive," Rick said. "But to me it was life or death at such a young age."

Rick got his first DI head coaching job at just 24, when he took over at Boston University. But the landscape was different back then as Pitino had worked at Five-Star, taught and lectured at a young age -- and learned to prioritize coaching over recruiting.

"Our emphasis was not on recruiting the way it is today," he said. "It's a different ballgame."

Richard Pitino, though, is ready -- according to both his father and Donovan. His first stint at Louisville came at 25 years of age and was solely as a recruiter (Pitino admits he wasn't ready for that job when his dad hired him), but the second go-around -- which followed two seasons in Gainesville with Donovan -- was as the top assistant with far more emphasis on scouting reports and coaching.

"The first time I thought he was ready to be a head coach was last year," Rick said.

FIU athletic director Pete Garcia reached out to Richard Pitino in mid-April after parting ways with Thomas this past offseason. He then met with Garcia and the president of the university and was offered the job days later. After calling his wife, mom, father and Donovan, he quickly accepted.

"I really wasn't in a rush to become a head coach at all," Richard said. "Especially with how good Louisville may be this season. I honestly wasn't driven by it, but after seeing the campus at FIU -- and what the school had to offer -- I really wanted this job."

Now, as his father moves into the twilight of his career, Richard Pitino begins his tenure as a head coach -- with a grounded and honest outlook that has been developed through years of watching his dad.

"My name isn't going to get me any wins," Richard said. "But being my dad's son will help."

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