Coach Pitino was on ESPN 1500 earlier this week and gave a very honest and open interview, as usual. He was straightforward with fans saying, "for now this is how it is going to have to be." That was in reference to the current losing streak, fan frustration that he has become aware of and the mounting impatience by everyone connected to Minnesota Gopher Basketball.
You see, Minnesota Gopher Basketball used to have that cache and without question we were a much prouder, more confident fan base in years past. Many of us are aware of the things that have obstructed or derailed the program, which in turn took away our pride and moxie. It's been harder to stand behind the Gopher program (as a whole) with the allegations, sex scandals and academic miscues because as Minnesotans that's not what we can relate to or who we are.
For all of Norwood Teague's faults, he brought in two very high character men in Jerry Kill and Richard Pitino. Coach Kill nearly had it all when Santoso was given an opportunity to tie the eventual National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes football team, it didn't happen, yet we still love our recently retired Coach Kill because of what he stood for. I thought a statue was going to go up if he had matched last season's success. I believe Coach Pitino stands for the same things. Honesty, loyalty, character, etc. and maybe one thing he has that Jerry never did is humility. Coach Kill's berating of the media after losses this season was a blemish on his outstanding career here at Minnesota, which as we know was cut short by a brain disorder he's had for a number of years. It's hard to say if these Kill/Pitino's character had anything to do with Norwood Teague's hiring process, but I am damn proud to have Coach Pitino anchoring the program's wavering integrity. He is doing things the right way.
He is also making an attempt to immerse himself in our culture. Refering back to coach's radio interview conducted this week, he said he and his wife Jill went to cut down a tree out in the country which they physically hauled back to the truck to take home so his children would have a Christmas tree. I believe it is his son Jack's first Christmas this year, and of course his oldest, Ava, will also share in what may be a short lived tradition in the young Pitino family. Hauling a fresh pine tree, that is.
The coach is making an honest effort here at our university. By doing things the right way, he has given me a reason not to feel foolish about my hopes for the program that I have followed since I was a young boy. It's personal for a lot of us when Badger fans make a mockery of our team. As true fans of the game though, we must have some respect for Wisconsin Basketball because of the way Beau Ryan has not only coached, but also impacted a fan base and a state.
The Big Ten has a lot of high character coaches and Pitino fits in.
We can rest easy knowing that if and when Richard Pitino leaves, the program will have taken steps forward in recruiting and also identity. We as Minnesotans get upset when a man like Charles Buggs, with all that talent, isn't running the floor with his teammates. Coach Pitino's decision to give the DNP, and send a message to Buggs against OKST, is something that resonates to us and is relateable to our values. It would be one thing if he didn't play him next season when Coffey, Hurt and Curry will provide more depth at the positions Charles plays, but sitting him this season in a tightly contested match shows that resolve that I didn't know Richard had.
Coach Pitino said on the radio that he needed to do some self-reflection after the loss to OKST. That self-awareness and accountability is so admirable in a 33-year-old Big Ten Men's Basketball coach. Nope, he doesn't have it all in focus yet. However, his players do seem to be putting in the effort and that's important to note after three really bad losses. It's bleak right now, but these tough losses may light a fire of expectation in the maroon and gold teammates. No promises, though.