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Updated: April 3rd, 2013 4:44pm
Zulgad: AD will say he got his guy but that doesn't appear to be the case

Zulgad: AD will say he got his guy but that doesn't appear to be the case

by Judd Zulgad

Get ready for the spin.

When Norwood Teague introduces Richard Pitino as the University of Minnesota men's basketball coach later this week - the Associated Press reported the deal was finalized Wednesday - the Gophers athletic director is going to tell you the 30-year-old is exactly the type of person he was looking to hire.

Teague will point to the success that previous unknowns Anthony Grant and Shaka Smart had under his employ at VCU and say that after one excellent season at Florida International University that Pitino is ready for the move to the Big Ten.

Nonetheless, it appears as if Teague's success (or lack of it) in making his first major coaching hire at Minnesota is no different than what his predecessor, Joel Maturi, went through in making his final significant hire at the school.

It was no secret that Jerry Kill was nowhere near the top of the Maturi's list to coach the Gophers football team. How far down the list Maturi had to go before landing on Kill is anyone's guess but safe to say he was five or six notches below the top choice.

When Teague jettisoned Tubby Smith a week ago Monday, the instant feeling was that he not only had somebody in mind but had a good chance of landing that person. Smart was the first guy that came to mind.

That would have been considered a grand slam and when Smart said, "thanks but no thanks," the feeling was that Teague had done the right thing by swinging for the fences.

After that, it appeared Teague simply began to swing and miss.

Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, Butler's Brad Stevens, Cincinnati's Mick Cronin and Flip Saunders all said no. Andy Enfield of Florida Gulf Coast also might have been in the mix but he ended up at Southern Cal.

Saunders, a former Gopher, appeared to be close to taking the job before Teague reportedly told the veteran coach that the university wanted a say in who he could hire as his assistants.

This led many to speculate the Gophers really didn't want Saunders and to date the school has done nothing to clear this up. Teague has not spoken to the media since he fired Smith.

Pitino was far enough down the list that Teague reportedly was prepared to talk to Arizona State assistant Eric Musselman, the son of the late Bill Musselman, but Eric was informed Tuesday not to fly to Fort Myers, Fla., because the Gophers had their coach. ESPN reported that Teague met with Pitino on Tuesday in Fort Myers.

Pitino will arrive on the Minnesota campus with a limited resume and a last name that right now is a blessing but could prove to be a curse.

His father, of course, is Louisville coach Rick Pitino and he will be reminded of this 1,000 times a day. This is likely nothing new for Pitino.

Richard Pitino did nothing to distance himself from his famous father when he served as an assistant under him at Louisville. Richard also was an assistant at Florida and Providence.

There is no denying that what Pitino did this past season at Florida International was impressive. He took over the program after former NBA great Isiah Thomas went a dismal 26-65 in three years and never won more than 11 games in any one season.

FIU entered 2012-13 having not had a winning season since 1999-2000. According to STATS LLC, FIU's winning percentage of .315 from 1999 to 2012 was 329th out of 344 Division I men's programs that competed over the past 12 years.

Pitino was able to change that losing culture in quick fashion.

He led the Golden Panthers to an 18-14 overall record and an 11-9 finish in the Sun Belt Conference. FIU upset Sun Belt favorite Middle Tennessee State in the semifinals of the conference tournament but then lost to Western Kentucky in a game that would have given them the automatic NCAA berth.

Teague will point to this success as a prime reason why Pitino was ready to move up.

The cynics will say by the end it appeared as if Teague was simply throwing darts at a board and hoping he would land on a coach who would take the job - just like Maturi did with the Kill hire.

Right now, it's going to be hard to argue with them.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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