Armed with Slicked back hair and a Long Island accent, Rick Pitino is the only coach in NCAA history to lead three schools to the Final Four. On the side he is part owner of the aptly named “Celtic Pride Stable” which describes his approach to life and Basketball: Fast and successful. This approach has served Pitino well.
Born September 18, 1952, Pitino was a standout in basketball during his high school years and attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. While at UMass Pitino was known as a top assist man, and is still in the record books for his career and single season totals.
Pitino’s first coaching post was as an assistant coach at the University of Hawaii in 1974. After 3 seasons at Hawaii Pitino would get his big break, getting hired as an assistant for new Syracuse University coach Jim Boeheim. Returning to his New York roots was good for Pitino and he was then hired by Boston University in 1978, this would be Pitino’s first Head Coaching post.
As coach of the Terriers Pitino would compile a 91-51 record and make 2 postseason appearance (1 NCAA tournament and 1 NIT Tournament). In 1985 Pitino would jump ship to coach at Providence College. At Providence, Pitino would coach the Friars to a Final Four appearance. In stroke of serendipity, the point guard on the Providence squad was Billy Donovan. The Friars would lose out in the hunt for the championship, but this would not be the last time the coach and guard would cross paths.
Next Pitino would take on his greatest coaching task, and achieve his greatest reward. Pitino was hired at Kentucky in 1989. While there he would develop his 3 point shooting and full court press philosophies to lead the Wildcats to 3 Final Fours and 1 National Championship in 1996. This is especially impressive considering that when Pitino arrived on campus the university was on academic probation.
Pitino’s next college coaching in his adopted state of Kentucky, this time at the University of Louisville in 2001. Since Being at Louisville Pitino has been 220-85 and has lead the Cardinal to a Final Four.
It is often said that leaders don’t just lead; they create other leaders to emulate their success. This is certainly true of Pitino’s coaching tree. Pitino has a long and very successful coaching tree that includes 3 national championships. A select group from Pitino’s tree include Tubby Smith (University of Minnesota), Herb Sendek (Arizona State University), Mick Cronin (University of Cincinnati) Jeff Van Gundy (NBA’s New York Knicks), and, the most successful of them all, Billy Donovan (University of Florida). It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Pitino’s coaching tree is so successful; he is a member of Jim Boeheim’s coaching tree. It is also worth noting that Pitino’s son, Richard, is serving as an assistant on Donovan’s staff.
Pitino has also had a number of former players go on to earn NBA honors. This includes Marcus Camby, Ron Mercer, Antoine Walker, Jamal Mashburn, and Derek Anderson.
Pitino has tried on two separate occasions to make the jump from coaching college player to NBA stars. Pitino’s first attempt came in the form of an assistant coaching post with the New York Knicks (1983-1985). His first head coaching position came again with the Knicks (1987-1989). In 1988 Season, Pitino turned a team that had won under 30 games into Division Champions and lead the Knicks to the Conference Semi Finals.
Pitino’s second stint in the NBA was much less successful. Taking over the Boston Celtics in 1997-1998, operating as Head Coach, General Manager, President and, CEO, Pitino lead Boston to four consecutive losing seasons. According to examiner.com’s, Hartford Pro Sports Examiner Mark Rawen, “Pitino would often be seen stomping his feet, screaming instructions to his player all game, every game. It’s one thing to be a hands-on coach, and it’s another thing to be so thoroughly smothering that your players begin to not only tune you out, but want nothing to do with you. As the player’s patience wore thin with Pitino, his wore thin with his players, the media, and the fans.” To this day, Pitino is thought of by Celtic fans as being the worst coach in Celtic history. An unfortunate highlight of Pitino’s tenure with the Celtics was his rant at Boston fans and media after a close loss:
“Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they’re going to be gray and old. What we are is young, exciting, hard-working, and we’re going to improve. People don’t realize that, and as soon as they realize those three guys are not coming through that door, the better this town will be for all of us because there are young guys in that (locker) room playing their asses off. I wish we had $90 million under the salary cap. I wish we could buy the world. We can’t; the only thing we can do is work hard, and all the negativity that’s in this town sucks. I’ve been around when Jim Rice was booed. I’ve been around when Yastrzemski was booed. And it stinks. It makes the greatest town, greatest city in the world, lousy. The only thing that will turn this around is being upbeat and positive like we are in that locker room… and if you think I’m going to succumb to negativity, you’re wrong. You’ve got the wrong guy leading this team.”
Off the court Pitino is an active in many philanthropic endeavors. In 2001, Pitino lost his close friend Billy Minardi in the World Trade Attacks. In his honor, Louisville established the “Billy Minardi Classic” a title given to a home game in December. The University has also established the Billy Minardi apartments. Another charity that Pitino is active in is the Daniel Pitino fund. Pitino’s son Daniel, passed on at 6 months due to heart failure. To this day the center has raised millions of dollars for children in need. In 1994 a shelter was established as well.
Pitino is going to retire someday, and probably stay in Kentucky. The kid from New York sitting on a Kentucky townhome sipping a mint julep and looking out over a lifetime of successes.