Rick Pitino, who resigned as coach of the NBA”s Boston Celtics earlier this year and is expected to decide whether to accept a job offer at Louisville today, appears to be leaning toward taking Michigan”s open coaching position.
“It”s 70-30 in favor of Michigan,” Boston CBS affiliate WBZ-TV correspondent Bob Lobel told The Michigan Daily.
Lobel, who hosted “The Rick Pitino Show” for the last three years, said he spoke with Pitino yesterday. “I think it”s a pretty good bet. It”ll come down to if his wife decides on Louisville, but he loves (Ann Arbor). He loves the college atmosphere.”
ESPN basketball reporter Dick Vitale also spoke with Pitino yesterday and told the Daily that Pitino doesn”t like the idea of his two young children hearing Kentucky fans booing and intimidating his family at Louisville games. Pitino left his job as head coach of Kentucky in 1997.
“The one thing (Louisville) can”t take away is that he has an 8-year old and a 10-year old,” Vitale said. “There”s such a battle there that it”s unbelievable. Had he not coached at Kentucky, he would have signed at Louisville long ago.”
Vitale said Pitino is very impressed with what Michigan has to offer.
“He likes a lot of things about Michigan,” Vitale said. “I think what he”s hearing about Michigan is exciting him.
“I think he said he”s making a decision with Louisville by (today). But I”ve had a tough time reading him.”
The Michigan Athletic Department is keeping quiet on the issue.
“While we”re going through this process, I”m not commenting on anything,” Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin said.
Martin met with Pitino on Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, where Pitino was doing commentary for the NCAA Tournament, but did not extend a job offer.
Pitino did not return messages left on his voicemail last night.
Many Michigan fans wore Pitino masks at Michigan”s home game against Indiana this year and have voiced their hope that Michigan would hire him to replace Brian Ellerbe as head coach for much of the year.
“Pitino would have an instant impact,” University alum Jason Witler said. “He would bring integrity back to the program.”
Witler and friends Joe Johnson, Dan Klemptner and Jennifer Kreszak organized a petition pleading with Pitino to choose Michigan. Approximately 4,000 students signed the petition, which was later faxed to Pitino”s home in Boston.
The foursome is planning a rally at noon today on the Diag to show support for bringing Pitino to Ann Arbor.
“I thought it would take a spark to start a fire,” Johnson said. “I thought it would be a snowball effect.”
Apparently, the snowball impressed Pitino. “He said “I”ll cherish that forever,”” Lobel said regarding his discussion with Pitino about the petition.
Before coaching the Celtics, Pitino coached at the University of Kentucky, the New York Knicks, Providence University and Boston University. He won the 1996 national title with Kentucky and took the Wildcats to the Final Four in 1993 and 1997 as well. In 1987, he coached Providence to the Final Four.
But Lobel said that Pitino”s next stop will be his last. “That”s what his plans are,” Lobel said. “He”d like to coach another six, seven, maybe 10 years. And Michigan and Louisville are his only options right now. His only other option right now is not to coach this year but he wants to get back in to it, as long as it”s the right job.”
Former Michigan Athletic Director Bo Schembechler told The Detroit News last weekend that it would be a mistake for the University to pay its basketball coach more money than football coach Lloyd Carr.
“I”ve got two words for you never happen,” Schembechler said.
Pitino was rumored as a candidate for the job opening at Michigan in 1989, when Bill Frieder left Michigan before Steve Fisher led Michigan to the national title as interim coach.