Despite leaning towards Michigan yesterday morning, Rick Pitino decided to accept the coaching job at Louisville yesterday.

Paul Wong
Ultimately, Rick Pitino”s familiarity with the state of Kentucky attracted him to the Louisville job.<br><br>AP PHOTO

Pitino was offered the head coaching job at Michigan, and as late as 11:30 a.m. yesterday was leaning towards signing with the Wolverines.

“I had a wonderful experience talking with the athletic director (Bill Martin) at Michigan,” Pitino said at his press conference. “The student body there was great to me in terms of their support. I was blown away by that. And at 11:30 this morning, I called my two friends and said “I”m probably going to go to Michigan.”

“And they said “what”s stopping you from doing that?” and I said “cowardice. I can”t get on the phone and tell (Louisville athletic director) Tom (Jurich) no.” I can”t tell him this.

The Michigan Daily reported yesterday that Pitino was leaning towards coming to Michigan, and that his family would play a large role in his decision.

“My wife (Joanne) said “I think that you love the state of Kentucky you love the people you met at U. of L. I think you should go back to the place you love.” ”

The news came a few hours after an organized rally in the Diag in support of Pitino coming to Michigan.

The rally was led by Superfan Reza Breakstone and Michigan alumnus Joe Johnson, who organized a petition which was signed by nearly 4,000 students in favor of Pitino coming to Michigan. The signatures were ultimately faxed and mailed to Pitino”s home in Boston.

Pitino”s friend and ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale said that Pitino ultimately “loved the state of Kentucky too much,” and that “Louisville got such a jump on recruiting him. They recruited him so hard for so long, it was really tough for him to say “no.” ”

The petition “really meant so much to him,” Vitale said. “He was really impressed with that.”

The Sporting News reported that Martin offered Pitino a base salary of $900,000, a report that Martin refused to comment on.

Ultimately, the attraction of returning to Kentucky was too much for Pitino to turn down.

“That was the most important thing for me,” Pitino said, “to be back in the state you love.”

Pitino won the 1996 national title with Kentucky and took the Wildcats to the Final Four in 1993 and 1997. He coached Providence to the Final Four in 1987.

His hiring follows an aggressive courtship Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich had with Pitino for the last two weeks. Two weeks ago, Jurich said that Pitino was his only candidate for the job.

The hiring leaves Michigan looking in other directions for Brian Ellerbe”s replacement.

Vitale said that Seton Hall”s coach Tommy Amaker still is a candidate, but that he has not had an opportunity to see who else is on Michigan candidate”s list or who the Wolverines might be leaning towards.

It has been reported that Amaker will be in Ann Arbor this weekend to meet with Martin about the job.

Martin refused comment on this.

Thank you: Johnson thanked everyone who attended the press conference and helped the cause.

“We went from being laughed at, to starting something, to speaking to Rick, to Rick thanking us to Rick saying “You almost had me. You almost had me,” ” Johnson said.

Johnson spoke with Pitino yesterday.

“He kept thanking us for all of the support. He”s a class act. It”s too bad it didn”t work out.”

When asked who Johnson would like to see Michigan hire, he said “I voted. I wanted them to hire Pitino. But I”ll support Michigan basketball no matter who they hire.”

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