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Eight is Enough: Gophers “part ways” with Richard Pitino after disappointing season

Richard Pitino
Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino directs his players against Nebraska in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Richard Pitino will  be coaching college basketball next season but it won’t be with the Gophers.

The University of Minnesota confirmed Monday night what everyone knew was coming, when the school announced via press release that it had parted ways with Pitino after eight seasons. On Tuesday morning, Pitino was named the coach at New Mexico, according to Jeff Goodman of Stadium.

Pitino, 38, was due a $1.75 million buyout from the Gophers but that will change now that he already has another job.

“I recently met with Richard and told him that we were moving in a different direction,” Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement. “Richard is a tremendous person and coach, and I want to thank him, (his wife) Jill and their family for their commitment to Minnesota. We wish them well in their next endeavor.

“Decisions like this are never easy, but after evaluating this season and the previous eight years of our program under Richard, it is clear to me that new leadership is needed. We have one of the best practice facilities in the nation, a historic competition venue and a state that produces top-caliber talent. This is an extremely attractive job, and we will immediately start a nationwide search for our next head coach.”

Pitino was let go as the Gophers coach after a disappointing 14-15 finish this season. The Gophers went 6-14 in the Big Ten and lost 11 of their final 14 games. Minnesota, which did not win a road game during the regular season (0-10), beat Northwestern in its opening game of the Big Ten tournament before losing to Ohio State.

Pitino was 54-96 in the conference (141-123 overall) during his time with the Gophers and finished higher than 10th place in the Big Ten only three times. Former Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague hired Pitino as his coach in 2013 after Pitino had coached only one season at Florida International. Teague hired the 30-year-old Pitino after being turned down by at least four other candidates.

The Gophers made the NCAA tournament in 2017 and 2019 under Pitino. Despite the Gophers’ struggles to win in the conference, Pitino had three years left on his contract (running through 2023-24) with an annual reported salary of $2.46 million.

Candidates to replace Pitino reportedly could include Arkansas’ Eric Musselman, San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher, Utah State’s Craig Smith and Colorado State’s Niko Medved. The first two are sons of former Gophers head coaches and the second two are Minnesota natives. Another potential candidate could be Ryan Saunders, who was fired as the Timberwolves coach last month and played as a walk-on for the Gophers.