After a few years as an assistant with Billy Donovan at Florida, and then working as the associate head coach with his father during Louisville’s run to the Final Four this past season, Richard Pitino is ready to step out of his father’s shadow and take over a program of his own. Pitino inked a five-year deal with Florida International. 29-years-old seems awfully young for a head coach in college basketball but Pitino has been successful everywhere he has gone, has a lot of experience on the game’s biggest stage, and after Isiah Thomas failed at FIU, the program needed to make a move to reverse the fortunes and Pitino looks up for the challenge.
Richard Pitino joined WQAM in Miami with Michael Irvin to talk about taking over for Isiah Thomas, how much fun it is to be a head coach and be the guy that the kids will look up to, how this hire came about, how great it was to work with and learn so much from his father, and what advice his father gave him.
On taking over for Isiah Thomas:
“I’ve got so much respect for Isiah Thomas. I mean he was one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game and he’s somebody who I’ve really looked up to and I know a lot of our players looked at him as a father figure and it’s important for me now, it didn’t work out for whatever reason, but we’ve got to turn the page certainly and I’ve got to learn to connect to these guys and they have to learn to trust me like they trusted Isiah and their staff so that’s really the most important thing right now.”
How much fun it is to be a head coach and be the guy that the kids will look up to:
“It’s a lot of fun. We had a team meeting two nights ago at 7:30 on campus just so I could introduce myself and my staff, I had each one of them come in, and meet with me individually and there was so much potential with the guys on our team and they’re really foaming at the mouth. They want to get going, they want to get ready to go and they’ve got a lot of passion, a lot of loyalty and we’ve just got to get rolling here and we will.”
How this hire came about:
“They called me last week and I wasn’t really looking to move. I had a great situation at Louisville at the time, I was working for my father, we had a top two or three team coming back and have a chance for a National Championship so I really wasn’t looking to move unless it was a great situation. When Pete Garcia called me and I got a chance to come down to FIU, to meet with Pete and the President, I was sold. It’s a beautiful campus, it’s a great academic university and it’s in South Florida. The good thing for me is I worked for Billy Donovan for two years and I recruited the state of Florida a lot. It’s a place that I’m comfortable recruiting, I know they have players for us and I just have to do a good job with my staff and we have to really reach out to everybody in the community and get this going. I know it has a lot of potential and we just have to get to work.”
How great it was to work with and learn so much from his father:
“It was absolutely awesome. I spent three years with him and we had a blast. It really didn’t feel like work. Now you know and I know it’s great when you win and stinks when you lose. We were fortunate enough that we went to two Elite Eight’s, won three Big East Titles and we went to a Final Four so maybe that’s why it was a lot of fun for me because we were winning at a high level. I really, really enjoyed it and the one thing about it I put so much pressure on myself because I wanted him to win as much as possible and I wanted to be able to provide him with as much help as I possibly could and when we won there was no better place to be. It was a lot of fun to see it.”
What advice his father gave to him:
“He said ‘listen, you’re not going to be able to do it alone. You have to hire a great staff.’ He said that is the most important thing. We’re kind of forming our staff right now and I’ve got to get to work on that and get the best guys possible for that situation because it’s not going to be something we’re going to do alone. The other thing he said is ‘you have to go to a place where they have a great Athletic Director and a great President.’ Those two guys sold me on FIU and their vision and I’m excited to work hand-in-hand with them. I know they’ll be great and we will be able to get it done with their help.”