When Minnesota hired Richard Pitino in 2013, he was hailed as a wunderkind with a basketball pedigree and acumen that was far more than just his last name. He was coming off an 18-14 campaign in his first season as a head coach at FIU, but he’d coached for the likes of his father, Rick Pitino, and Billy Donovan. Not to mention he was being hand picked by the man that tabbed Shaka Smart and started the famed Villa 7 consortium.
Three years later, it appears that the Gophers program is unraveling fast.
The latest in a recent string of issues for Pitino is an audit of his travel that found he’d spent triple his budget for private plane use in 2015 among other overspending issues, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
This revelation came just hours after junior Reggie Lynch was released from custody after being arrested on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct. Lynch was not charged, but police will continue to investigate and he could face charges at a later date.
Just a few months ago, three Gophers were suspended after an explicit video was posted to social media. One of them, Kevin Dorsey, decided to transfer after the season.
Athletic director Norwood Teague, of course, resigned ignominiously last summer amid a sexual harassment scandal, but not before he negotiated the terms of a contract for Pitino that gave the 33-year-old a $400,000 raise and upped his university-owed buyout to $7.1 million, despite the fact Pitino went just 43-28 overall and 14-22 in the Big Ten in his first two seasons. The Gophers went 8-23 overall and 2-16 this past season. That extension has Minnesota’s Board of Regents moving to gain approval of all high-level contracts for athletic department employees.
Minnesota still has not hired Teague’s replacement, leaving Minnesota with an interim AD.
The audit that was made public Tuesday would also appear to show Teague giving Pitino further favorable financial treatment. Pitino’s contract called for him to be allowed $50,000 for private planes but Teague authorized him to spend $100,000 in 2014 and $150,000 in 2015, according to the Star Tribune. Pitino was also said to have “unreasonable” spending on rental cars and took two “unallowable” flights because the destinations were within 200 miles of campus.
That’s a long way of saying that Pitino will be under tremendous pressure this upcoming season, but he will welcome his best recruiting class yet to the Twin Cities. He’ll likely need to show significant improvement to appease whoever his new boss is once Minnesota hires an athletic director. Putting an immediate end to the off-court issues that have plagued the program in high-profile ways will also be a priority.
The excitement of hiring a young coach with a famous name has faded fast in Minneapolis. What’s left is a program that is piling up problems with regularity and frequency.