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Rick Pitino

Pitino coaching the Louisville Cardinals

Rick Pitino (born )[1] is an American basketball coach. Since 2001, he has been the head coach at the University of Louisville. He has also served as head coach at Boston University, Providence College and the University of Kentucky, leading that program to the NCAA championship in 1996. He has coached on the professional level for the NBA's New York Knicks and Boston Celtics with mixed results.

Pitino holds the distinction of being the only men's coach in NCAA history to lead three different schools (Providence, Kentucky, and Louisville) to the Final Four. In addition, Pitino has achieved a measure of success as an author and a motivational speaker.



Early years

Pitino an Italian American and native of New York City, grew up in the Village of Bayville and was captain of the St. Dominic High School basketball team in nearby Oyster Bay, Long Island.[2] He enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1970. He was a standout guard for the Minutemen basketball team. His 329 career assists rank tenth all-time at UMass, as of the 2008-2009 season. He led the team in assists as a junior and senior. The 168 assists as a senior is the eighth-best single season total ever there.[3] Pitino was a freshman at the same time future NBA legend Julius Erving spent his junior (and final) year at UMass, although the two never played on the same team because freshmen were ineligible to play varsity basketball at the time. Another teammate of Pitino's was Al Skinner, who also went on to become a successful college coach. Pitino earned his degree from UMass in 1974. He was an inductee into the UMass Hall of Fame.

Collegiate coaching

Pitino is currently head coach at the University of Louisville. Previous college coaching assignments include Boston University, Providence College, and the University of Kentucky. As a collegiate head coach, Pitino has compiled a 521–191 record, for a .732 winning percentage that is ranked 10th among active coaches and 29th all-time among all collegiate basketball coaches entering the 2009 season.

Pitino is considered by many to be one of the first coaches to promote fully taking advantage of the 3-point shot, first adopted by the NCAA in 1987. By exploiting the 3-point shot, his teams at Kentucky in the early 1990s were known as Pitino's Bombinos, as a significant portion of the offensive points came from the 3-point shot. Even now, Pitino's teams are known for the 3-point threat and all of his teams rank towards the top in 3-point attempts per season.

Many of Pitino's players and assistant coaches have gone on to become successful collegiate coaches. In total, 21 former Pitino players and coaches have become Division I head coaches, including Florida's Billy Donovan, Minnesota's Tubby Smith, Arizona State's Herb Sendek, and Cincinnati's Mick Cronin.[3]

Assistant coaching career

Pitino started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Hawaii in 1974, and became a full-time assistant (and interim head coach) in 1975. He was then the first assistant hired by Jim Boeheim in 1976 as Boeheim began his tenure at Syracuse University.

Pitino served as Hawaii's interim head coach late in the 1975-76 season. Coach Bruce O'Neil was fired after the Rainbow Warriors' started the season 9-12. Pitino led Hawaii for their final six games, going 2-4 in the span.[4]

Pitino's time at Hawaii was marred by a 1977 NCAA report on sanctions against the program. According to the report, Pitino was implicated in 8 of the 64 infractions that led the University to be placed on probation. The violations involving Pitino included providing round-trip air fare for a player between New York and Honolulu, arranging for student-athletes to receive used cars for season tickets, and handing out coupons to players for free food at McDonald's. He was also cited, along with the head coach, Bruce O'Neil, for providing misinformation to the NCAA and University of Hawaii officials. Also in 1977, the NCAA infractions committee recommended that Pitino and O'Neil be disassociated from Hawaii athletics. In 1989, Pitino would dismiss the report, saying "I didn't make any mistakes, I don't care what anybody says."[5]

Boston University

Pitino's first head coaching job came in 1978 at Boston University. In the two seasons before his arrival, the team had won a mere 17 games. Pitino led the team to its first NCAA appearance in 24 years.[6]


Pitino left Boston University to become an assistant coach with the New York Knicks under Hubie Brown. Pitino returned to college coaching to become head coach at Providence in 1985. Providence had gone a dismal 11–20 in the year before he took over. Two years later, Pitino led the team to the Final Four. That Final Four team featured point guard Billy Donovan, who would go on to be an assistant coach under Pitino at Kentucky and then win back-to-back national championships as head coach at the University of Florida.


After spending two years coaching in the NBA, Pitino returned to the college level again in 1989, becoming the coach at Kentucky. The once legendary Kentucky program was reeling from a major recruiting scandal brought on by former coach Eddie Sutton that left it on NCAA probation. Pitino quickly restored Kentucky's reputation and performance, leading his second school to the Final Four in the 1993 NCAA Tournament, and winning a national title in the 1996 NCAA Tournament, Kentucky's first NCAA championship in 18 years. The following year, Pitino's Kentucky team made it back to the national title game, losing to Arizona in overtime in the finals of the 1997 NCAA Tournament. Pitino's fast-paced teams at Kentucky were favorites of the school's fans. It was primarily at Kentucky where he implemented his signature style of full-court pressure defense.


Pitino went back to the NBA in 1997, but returned to college—and his adopted home state—on March 21, 2001 to coach the University of Louisville following the retirement of Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum. In the 2005 season, Pitino led Louisville to their first Final Four in 19 years, and became the only men's coach in NCAA history to lead three different schools to the Final Four. Immediately following their Final Four run, several players graduated or entered the 2005 NBA Draft. The inexperience caused the Cardinals to limp into the Big East Tournament seeded 12th, and miss the NCAA tournament. They made the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), where they were defeated by eventual champions University of South Carolina. The 2007 Cardinal team was primarily the same team, with added freshmen. Picked to finish towards the bottom of the Big East Conference again, Pitino led them to a second-place finish, 12–4 (tied with the University of Pittsburgh, but Louisville beat them earlier in the season) in the conference standings and a first round bye in the conference tournament. Pitino implemented a 2-2-1 and 2-3 zone defense midway through the season. The 2007 team's season ended when the Cardinals lost to Texas A&M in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The 2008 Cardinals finished second in the Big East and ranked 13th in both the AP and Coaches' polls. Louisville was the third seed in the 2008 NCAA tournament's East region. They defeated Boise State, Oklahoma and Tennessee to advance to the Elite Eight, where they were defeated by North Carolina. Louisville was the first seed in the 2009 NCAA tournament's Midwest region. They defeated Morehead State, Siena and Arizona to advance to the Elite Eight, where they were defeated by Michigan State.

Professional coaching

Pitino became head coach of the New York Knicks in 1987. The year before he arrived, the team had won only 24 games. In just two years, Pitino led the Knicks to their first division title in nearly twenty years.[6]

His NBA coaching experience often demonstrated a deep frustration with the dynamics of the league, especially in Boston, where he amassed a 102–146 record from 1997 to 2001. After being beaten by the Toronto Raptors on March 1, 2000 on a buzzer-beater by Vince Carter, Pitino's frustration reached critical mass as he addressed the press. Referring to the expectations of Boston Celtics fans and media, Pitino challenged each of them to let go of the past and focus on the future:

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.

Pitino struggled in his roles with the Celtics, and statistics like 1999's 19–31 record made him little better in the eyes of many Boston fans than his inexperienced predecessor, M.L. Carr. Pitino's remarks became a cornerstone of Boston Celtics lore, and has served as a metaphor for other sports franchises and their inability to relive past successes.[verification needed] Pitino himself reprised the speech in a tongue-in-cheek manner at Louisville in November 2005, challenging his freshmen players to play as tough as past seniors and drawing laughter from sportswriters in a post-game press conference. During his time in Boston he had complete power serving not just as Head Coach but as General Manager, CEO, and President of the team.

Author and accomplishments

Pitino is the author of a motivational self-help book (and audio recording) named Success is a Choice. He published an autobiography in 1988 entitled Born to Coach describing his life up until his time with the Knicks. His most recent book "Rebound Rules," was the top seller at the 2008 Kentucky Book Fair.

In 2005, Pitino's Louisville team posted a tie for the most single season wins in school history (33) while he became the only men's coach in NCAA history to lead three separate schools (Providence, Kentucky, and Louisville) to the Final Four.

Pitino's .744 winning percentage in 43 NCAA Tournament games is 3rd best among active coaches.

Thoroughbred horse racing

Beyond basketball, Pitino has been involved in the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing as the lead partner in Celtic Pride Stable and the Ol Memorial Stable. Among his notable horses have been A P Valentine and Halory Hunter.[8]

Personal life

Pitino married his wife, the former Joanne Minardi, in 1976. They have five living children: Michael, Christopher, Richard (an assistant coach for the University of Florida Gators),[9] Ryan and Jacqueline. Another son, Daniel, died in 1987 from congenital heart failure at the age of six months. Rick and Joanne established the Daniel Pitino Foundation (along with a Daniel Pitino shelter in Owensboro, Kentucky) in his memory, which has raised millions of dollars for children in need.[10]

Their son's death was not the last tragedy for Rick and Joanne. Both were especially hard-hit by 9/11, as Joanne's brother and Rick's closest friend, Billy Minardi, was working as a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center when it was struck by American Airlines Flight 11. Since 2002, the University of Louisville has designated a December home game as the Billy Minardi Classic, and the university named a dorm on campus as "Billy Minardi Hall." Only a few months earlier, another brother-in-law of Rick, Don Vogt, was killed after being hit by a New York City cab.[2]

Extortion attempt against Pitino

On April 18, 2009, Pitino announced that he was a target of an extortion attempt.[11] On April 24, Karen Cunagin Sypher, the wife of Louisville equipment manager Tim Sypher, was arraigned and charged in US District Court with extortion and lying to federal agents.[12][13] On July 9,[14] Sypher told police that Pitino had raped her on two occasions, but the state declined to file charges against Pitino.[15]

On August 11, Pitino admitted to having consensual sex with Cunagin on August 1, 2003 in a Louisville restaurant, Porcini's, where the two supposedly engaged themselves in sexual intercourse under a table.[14][15][16] Several weeks later, Cunagin told Pitino that she was pregnant and wanted to have an abortion, but she did not have health insurance. Pitino paid her $3,000 for an unidentified healthcare expense.[16][17] In addition, Cunagin stated that her estranged husband, Tim Sypher, was paid to marry her.[18]

At a press conference on August 12, Pitino made a statement, in which he apologized for the affair and stated that he would remain as coach.[19] While Pitino's contract allows for his firing for "acts of moral depravity or misconduct that damages the university's reputation," University of Louisville president James Ramsey announced on August 13 that Pitino would be retained in his position.[16]

On August 26, Pitino demanded in a press conference that the media stop "reporting these lies." The conference was called against the recommendations of the University of Louisville and the Louisville police department.[18]

Head coaching record





|- | align="left" |NYK | align="left" |1987–88 | 82 || 38 || 44 || .463 || align="center" |2nd in Atlantic || 4 || 1 || 3 | align="center" |Lost in First Round |- | align="left" |NYK | align="left" |1988–89 | 82 || 52 || 30 || .634 || align="center" |1st in Atlantic || 9 || 5 || 4 | align="center" |Lost in Conf. Semifinals |- | align="left" |NYK | || 164 || 90 || 74 || .549 || || 13 || 6 || 7 |- | align="left" |BOS | align="left" |1997–98 | 82 || 36 || 46 || .439 || align="center" |6th in Atlantic || 0 || 0 || 0 | align="center" |None |- | align="left" |BOS | align="left" |1998–99 | 50 || 19 || 31 || .371 || align="center" |5th in Atlantic || 0 || 0 || 0 | align="center" |None |- | align="left" |BOS | align="left" |1999–2000 | 82 || 35 || 47 || .471 || align="center" |5th in Atlantic || 0 || 0 || 0 | align="center" |None |- | align="left" |BOS | align="left" |2000–01 | 34 || 12 || 22 || .371 || align="center" |5th in Atlantic || 0 || 0 || 0 | align="center" |None |- | align="left" |BOS | || 248 || 102 || 146 || .436 || || 0 || 0 || 0 |- | align="left" |Career | || 412 || 192 || 220 || .466 || || 13 || 6 || 7 || .461 |}

Coaching succession

See also

  • NCAA Men's Division I Final Four appearances by coaches
  • NCAA Men's Division I Elite Eight appearances by coaches


  2. 2.0 2.1 Drucker, Joel (March/April 2002). "Profile: Rick Pitino. The Heart and Soul of Rick Pitino". Cigar Aficionado. http://www.cigaraficionado.com/Cigar/CA_Archives/CA_Show_Article/0,2322,19,00.html. Retrieved March 28, 2007. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Men's Basketball UofLSports.com". University of Louisville. http://www.uoflsports.com/sports/m-baskbl/mtt/pitino_rick00.html. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  4. http://hawaiiathletics.com/documents/2009/3/5/UH%20Basketball%20History.pdf
  5. Rhoden, William C. (1989-05-24). "Pitino Unfazed By Past Infractions". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1989/05/24/sports/pitino-unfazed-by-past-infractions.html?pagewanted=1. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  7. D'Alessandro, Dave (2000-03-13). "There's something about Pitino and the Celtics". The Sporting News. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1208/is_11_224/ai_60498918/. Retrieved 2009-06-11. 
  8. Breeders' Cup Bios
  9. Men's Basketball gatorzone.com- University of Florida Official Athletic Site
  10. William George Minardi, "Coach Pitino, Wife Mourn Loss at WTC of Her Brother, His Best Friend, Oyster Bay's Minardi" (Nov. 11, 2001).
  11. Crawford, Eric (2009-04-18). "Pitino says he is target of extortion attempt". The Courier-Journal. http://search.courier-journal.com/sp?eId=213&gcId=72849525&rNum=4&url=http%3A%2F%2Fnl.newsbank.com%2Fcgi-bin%2Fngate%2FLCJB%3Fext_docid%3Dlou68478220%26ext_hed%3DHusband+of+accuser+defends+Pitino%26s_site%3Dcourier-journal%26ext_theme%3Dgannett%26pubcode%3DLCJB%26usefield%3Dsqn&siteIdType=2. Retrieved 2009-04-19. 
  12. "Woman charged with trying to extort Pitino". Associated Press. http://rr.com/home/home/article/9001/7552614/Woman_charged_with_trying_to_extort_Pitino. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  13. FBI Affidavit regarding Sypher
  14. 14.0 14.1 Andrew Wolfson (11 August 2009). "Rick Pitino told police he had consensual sex with accuser". USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/mensbasketball/bigeast/2009-08-11-pitino_N.htm?poe=HFMostPopular. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Report: Pitino says he paid for abortion". ESPN. http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/news/story?id=4392828&campaign=rss&source=ESPNHeadlines. Retrieved 2009-08-11. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Garcia, Marlen (12 August 2009). "Pitino apologizes, vows to stay 'as long as they'll have me'". USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/mensbasketball/bigeast/2009-08-12-louisville-pitino_N.htm. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  17. "Pitino told police he had consensual sex with Cunagin". Courier-Journal. http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20090811/SPORTS02/908110350/. Retrieved 2009-08-11. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 Valarie Honeycutt Spears (2009-08-27). "Pitino calls news stories '100 percent a lie'". Herald-Leader. http://www.kentucky.com/latest_news/story/910074.html. Retrieved 2009-08-28. 
  19. "Pitino apologizes for affair". The Courier-Journal. 2009-08-12. http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20090812/SPORTS02/908120382/Pitino+apologizes+for+affair. Retrieved 2009-08-12. 
  20. Rick Barnes Year-By-Year

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