You know the slogan - If you don't succeed, try, try again.
If you believe the latest rumblings that have surfaced about the IU coaching search, that's what is going on with Louisville Coach Rick Pitino. It is widely believed IU A.D. Rick Greenspan pursued the legendary coach two years ago because he fit a very limiting criteria that included, among other things, a Final Four on the resume. While that ruled out the majority of candidates it only enhanced Pitino in Greenspan's eyes since he is the only coach who has guided three different teams to the Final Four – Providence (1987), Kentucky (1993, 1996, 1997) and Louisville (2005).
Indiana didn't get Pitino then, but can it get him now? Time will tell.
Pitino's credentials are undeniable. The 55-year-old is now in his 21st season as a Division I head coach and has compiled a 519-190 record, earned 13 trips to the NCAA tourney and five berths in the Final Four (including the 1996 NCAA title). He's been successful at each of his three Division I stops – he was 91-51 in five seasons at Boston University (1979-83); 42-23 in two years at Providence (1984-85); 219-50 in eight seasons at Kentucky (1990-97); and 167-66 in seven years at Louisville.
The only real failure of Pitino's coaching career came at the professional level. He enjoyed success in his first stint, going 90-74 in two years with the New York Knicks from 1987-89. But when he was lured away Kentucky thanks to a 10-year, $50 million deal to become the head coach and director of basketball operations with the Boston Celtics in 1997, his fortunes turned. In three and a seasons the Celtics were 102-146 and failed to make the playoffs each year.
That prompted a return to the college game, landing back in the Bluegrass state with Kentucky's arch-rival, Louisville. He originally signed a six-year, $12.2 million deal in 2001, but has had that extended in both 2004 and 2007. He's now signed through 2013 at $2.25 million annually. He also has a variety of "loyalty" incentives in his contract that up the value of the deal if he remains at the Big East school. Last summer, he was scheduled to receive a $5 million "loyalty" bonus for completing the terms of the original deal.
What Makes Him a Viable Candidate: Indiana wants to once again be a Final Four program, and Pitino has guided each of his last three college teams to the Final Four. Also, if the IU decision makers are once again using at least one Final Four trip as a requirement in its coaching search, Pitino is in a small group of coaches who, a. meet that requirement, and b. would have any interest in leaving their current job. He's proven himself as an elite recruiter at both Kentucky and Louisville, consistently attracting top-20 and top-50 types to those schools and rebuilding programs that were struggling before his arrival. He's also never run afoul of the NCAA, an absolute must with any coaching candidate. While many Louisville fans will insist that the city of Louisville, his love of horse racing, and the Louisville program will keep him from considering other opportunities…let's get real. Pitino has a coaching career's worth of examples of always keeping an eye out for other possibilities. He also wouldn't be scared off by IU's impending NCAA visit since he inherited a Kentucky program that was in a much worse situation than IU finds itself in.
What Makes Him a Longshot: Is Indiana ready to break the bank to get Pitino? It better be, because the relative peanuts that Kelvin Sampson was making isn't close to enough to attract Pitino. His $2.25 million annual salary includes a plethora of "loyalty" escalators that make the deal much more lucrative. His annual salary goes up to $2.5 million if he stays until the end of the deal (2013) and he's also due $3.6 million bonuses in 2010 and 2013 if he's still with the Cardinals. With all of that in mind, IU would have to be ready to dole out $3 million per season to get him to town. Indiana would have to go out in search of some heavy-hitting donors, because that kind of money isn't sitting around Assembly Hall. On top of that, the New York City native isn't a small town guy. That was one of the few drawbacks for him and his wife while they were in Lexington during the 1990s, and Bloomington isn't going to offer the sort of attractions that Pitino is going to want away from the court.
HoosierNation.com's Take: It would be a real head-scratcher to think IU would form a 10-member search committee and then go out and try to lure the same man they coveted two years ago, but not a lot has made much sense with these sort of things as of late. If Indiana decides to go down this road again, I suspect it will result in another dead end. Pitino has always shown a willingness to listen – who wouldn't? – but it would take a monetary windfall to get him to Bloomington. Maybe IU could scrape together the kind of dollars to make a competitive offer, but it doesn't have the resources to put together the kind of deal that would be too good for Pitino to pass up. Louisville A.D. Tom Jurich – someone IU interviewed for its own AD job in 2001 before picking Michael McNeely – is also extremely proactive and won't hesitate to sweeten Pitino's Louisville deal to get him to stay. While rumors have swirled to the contrary, I still consider this a real long shot.
IU COACHING CANDIDATE: Rick Pitino
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