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Updated: April 7th, 2013 10:46pm
Reusse's Reality: Musselman and Pitino

Reusse's Reality: Musselman and Pitino

by Patrick Reusse

Bill Musselman was announced as Minnesota's basketball coach on April 5, 1971. His age was 30 years, 7 months and 23 days.

Rich Pitino was introduced as Minnesota's men's basketball coach on April 5, 2013. His age was 30 years, 6 months and 20 days.

The fact I have not made futile attempts at cartwheels in celebration of Pitino's hiring has caused trouble with Gopher zealots. Those folks want to make grand pronouncements as to the many accomplishments that a wait with this coach, as they did for Tubby Smith and Dan Monson before him.

Maybe it was my enthusiasm for the Monson hire and his ultimate failure that leaves me with a wait and let's see attitude 14 years later on Pitino.

I can hear the critics screaming right now: What do you mean wait and see? You aren't giving Pitino a chance.

So, I better make three points here:

One, my original criticism was of the search conducted by athletic director Norwood Teague and his assistant and basketball specialist, Mike Ellis. Basically, they sold us a bill of goods that the Villa 7 weekend seminars conducted for assistant coaches at Virginia Commonwealth gave them the inside track on some of the top, younger coaches in the country.

And then a week into the search, Teague had hit a dry well and was calling Florida's Billy Donovan, begging for a recommendation. That's when Rich Pitino hit the radar - and 24 hours later, he was being hired, with very little in the way of research other than Donovan liked him, and Donovan's mentor, Rick Pitino, was his father.

Two, I wasn't the biggest booster of Flip Saunders when Teague was posturing arrogantly at his "I fired Tubby'' news conference, and making promises of a big hire.

Within a few days, it was clear that Teague's show of confidence was a charade and he would be lucky to land Flip. Then, the AD allowed that to fall apart, leaving Teague pleading for another name to pursue. That's when Donovan offered up Pitino, with his head coaching resume of one season at Florida International.

Three, I wrote a Star Tribune blog on Friday on Pitino having a falsehood in his coaching biography that remained through four jobs and seven years. Many readers apparently saw this as an attempt to get Pitino, rather than the routine reporting of a fact.

To summarize: I have no strong opinion on whether Rich Pitino will fail or succeed as Minnesota's coach.

I consider his father to have been the best college basketball coach in the country for the past three decades (when not in the NBA), but for me that doesn't factor in how his kid will do in the Big Ten.

Fellow old-timers have sent messages with this theme: "Reusse, you of all people should know what a hard-working, intense 30-year-old coach can do for the Gophers. You were around for Bill Musselman.''

Yes, I was. I loved The Muzz. I went around the country to write stories on him after he left the Gophers - to San Diego, to Cleveland to see him coach the Cavaliers, to St. Petersburg, Fla. to see him coach in the minor leagues. Later, after he came and went with the Timberwolves, I spent several days with him in Mobile, Ala. as he was coaching South Alabama.

That said, there's no valid comparision between what Musselman walked into at Minnesota on April 5, 1971, and what Rich Pitino walked into at Minnesota on April 5, 2013.

First off, Musselman had been a very successful coach in NCAA college division basketball at Ashland (Ohio) for six seasons when hired at Minnesota. And know this, with the limited number of teams playing university division basketball then, Musselman was winning with players who would be coveted recruits in today's bloated Division I world.

The Gophers had hired Cal Luther, a veteran coach at Murray [Ky.] State, and introduced him as the new coach in 1971. Then, Luther reneged, went back to Murray, and the Gophers went to Musselman.

He came into a situation where the Gophers were charging $3 a ticket for adults, letting students in for loose change, and were lucky to draw 6,000 a game.

Bottom line: Gophers basketball was a non-factor on the Minnesota sports scene.

Musselman changed that quickly. He did this with the pregame show, by accumulating tremendous talent and putting on consistent displays of intense basketball.

And, yeah, by cheating like hell, until being chased to the ABA as NCAA investigators tightened the noose in the summer of 1975.

Pitino enters a situation where there's a demand for large crowds of people paying more than 30 bucks for tickets (with added yearly premiums). And while he might be able to fudge a little, presumably his bosses wouldn't want him to cheat like hell.

I know all about Bill Musselman. I loved The Muzz.

But what he did with Minnesota basketball starting as a 30-year-old in 1971 has no bearing on what Rich Pitino will or won't do starting as a 30-year-old more than four decades later.

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He co-hosts SportsTalk from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and hosts The Ride with Reusse from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. He also co-hosts "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Patrick | @1500ESPN_reusse | The Ride with Reusse