Richard Pitino has been hired as the next head coach of the New Mexico men's basketball program less than 24 hours after Minnesota announced his firing, the program announced on Tuesday. Pitino replaces Paul Weir, who was fired in February amid a 6-16 season for the Lobos.
Pitino spent eight seasons as Minnesota's coach and led the program to NCAA Tournament appearances in 2017 and 2019 before posting losing records the past two seasons. Former Nebraska coach Tim Miles was also reportedly in the running for the New Mexico job.
"It is a great day for Lobo Basketball and for everyone who loves our program and our University," New Mexico athletic director Eddie Nuñez said in a release. "Richard Pitino is a proven winner with a track record of success on the court, including deep tournament runs and wins over nationally ranked programs, as well as proven success off the court by creating a tremendous student-athlete experience and supporting them as they earn their degrees. I welcome Richard, Jill and their three children to The University of New Mexico and to Duke City, and I am excited for the future of Lobo Basketball."
Though the New Mexico program has struggled as of late, it's a job with a track record for sending coaches on to bigger gigs. Steve Alford went 155-52 with the Lobos between 2007-13, and parlayed that success into landing the UCLA job. Another former New Mexico coach, Dave Bliss, won NCAA Tournament games with the Lobos in four straight seasons from 1996-99, and was then hired by Baylor in the Big 12 -- although his tenure with the Bears then ended in scandal.
"My wife Jill, our children and I are very excited to join the Lobo Family," Pitino said. "I want to extend my sincere thanks to President Stokes, Eddie Nuñez and David Williams for extending this opportunity. Lobo Basketball holds a special place in the hearts of New Mexicans, and I cannot wait to get started."
Current Chicago Bulls coach and former longtime Florida coach Billy Donovan was an influential voice behind the scenes in Pitino's hiring at New Mexico, sources told CBS Sports. Donovan coached New Mexico athletic director Eddie Nuñez at Florida and later employed Pitino as an assistant with the Gators.
At just 38, Pitino has the time to rebuild his brand in the profession and position himself for another shot at a high-profile job. His father, Rick Pitino, is currently enjoying a renaissance of his own as the former Kentucky and Louisville coach just led Iona to an NCAA Tournament berth in his first season on the job. The elder Pitino offered counsel during the process that led to Richard Pitino's quick rebound with the Lobos.