MINNEAPOLIS - The writing appears to be on the wall for Richard Pitino as the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team has two regular season games left, and the Big Ten Tournament, to try and fight for an NCAA Tournament bid.
But as Pitino’s eighth season comes to a close, the Gophers are in free fall mode. Needing a strong finish to lock up an NCAA bid, the Gophers lost at home last Thursday to a Northwestern team that had lost 13 straight games in the Big Ten. That’s after getting out to a 17-3 lead. Minnesota then lost at Nebraska 78-74 Saturday night, its second Big Ten win of the season.
They've lost five straight and eight of their last 10 after early-season wins over Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan State. They're also 0-9 on the road in 2021. The Gophers were ranked as high as No. 16 at one point this season.
Minnesota is now 13-12, and 6-12 in the Big Ten. It might be time for a change. In a podcast Monday put on by the Field of 68 Network with Robbie Hummel of Big Ten Network and Jeff Goodman of ESPN, they evaluate Pitino’s future, or lack thereof, with the Gophers.
Minnesota has been to two NCAA Tournaments under Pitino, and beat Louisville two seasons ago. Pitino has three years remaining under his current contract, but could be terminated with a $1.75 million buyout from the school. If he stays after April 30, Pitino gets a $400,000 retention bonus.
Hummel said if he were Minnesota AD Mark Coyle, he’d keep Pitino for one more season, citing the school’s financial concerns with COVID-19, already having to cut three men's sports and the team being hit again by injuries.
Goodman said it’s time to go in another direction.
"I would make a move if I was Mark Coyle. And if I’m Richard Pitino, I’m getting the hell out of there now. At this point, he’s running in quick sand," Goodman said.
Pitino has a 140-120 record with the Gophers, but is just 54-94 in Big Ten play over his career. The Gophers have been above .500 in league play just once in his eight years, when they finished 11-7 in the 2016-17 season and Pitino was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year.
According to reports, Coyle met with Pitino on Friday, before the Gophers traveled to Nebraska. Pitino met with his team for a lengthy talk on Saturday, and his tone after the loss to the Cornhuskers was that of a coach who is aware change might be coming.
"I just told them enjoy the process, enjoy being in college. It’s a weird college experience, but embrace it, love it. Love the time that you have with your teammates, love playing basketball. Obviously we’ve dealt with a lot of adversity, the one thing I’ve said over and over again is nobody is ever going to feel sorry for you. That’s just the reality of it," Pitino said. "Pour your heart and soul into whatever it is that you do every single day, and you’ll enjoy that process."
The Gophers are without starters Liam Robbins and Gabe Kalscheur due to injury, and they miss them.
To this point, Coyle has not said anything publicly about Pitino’s future. He said after last season the two met and spoke about expectations for the program. If the Gophers miss another NCAA Tournament, it might be time for a change.