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Q&A: Rick Pitino on Retirement, Kentucky And Big East Expansion

May 11, 2010 – 1:22 PM
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Brett McMurphy

Brett McMurphy %BloggerTitle%

TAMPA, Fla. – When Rick Pitino's contract with Louisville expires after the 2017 season, he said he'll be finished coaching.

"I'll be 65 when it runs out. I am hoping I don't have to coach after that," Pitino joked.

Pitino was in Tampa over the weekend, speaking at a coaching clinic.

"I love coaching, I love the kids," Pitino told FanHouse. "I really do. But when you start as a head coach [at 25] and when you're a head coach for 40 years, that may be enough."

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich isn't so sure.

"I want him to stay as long as he can," Jurich said. "There will never be a better fit than Rick Pitino and Louisville. I want to convince him to stay more."

Jurich remembered what Pitino told him in 2001 when he came to Louisville to replace UL legend Denny Crum.

"When you have to replace a Hall of Famer, the best thing to do is replace him with another Hall of Famer," Jurich said. "When he signed, he said he'd only stay three years and now we're on his third contract [extension] at Louisville -- so never say never [about Pitino coaching past 65].

"What's he going to do if he's not coaching? I tell him you'll play golf six days in a row and you'll be tired of it."

Ironically, the golf course, Tampa's exclusive Old Memorial Golf Club, was where Pitino was headed Saturday afternoon. But before he hit the links, he talked to FanHouse about how he frequently throws Mike Krzyzewski under the bus, his thoughts on Big East expansion, if coaching at Kentucky was a bigger microscope than coaching at Louisville and the "re-branding" of Louisville basketball.

FanHouse: Will the four-year extension you received through 2017 finally quiet the rumors and speculation about you returning to the NBA?

Rick Pitino: I think [the NBA] realizes it's over for me. What I tell them is, I automatically defuse it and I have three names I always mention as a replacement for my name. I've learned how to defuse it immediately by putting three rumors out there of other people. I'm throwing three of my good friends under the bus. I always throw Coach K out there, because I know he's not going [to the NBA].

FH: If the Big Ten expands, it could greatly impact the Big East. Ultimately what do you think might happen and how can the Big East be proactive?

RP: I think the only thing the Big Ten is going to do is make a run at Notre Dame. I don't think any schools in the Big East [will be targeted] except Notre Dame. As long as the Big East doesn't lose anyone in football, we'll be fine. But somewhere along the way, we're going to need to expand football, but I hope not basketball. I don't know how they're going to do that but we cannot expand [basketball] any more. That was one of the reasons I think that this year we didn't do as well [in the NCAAs] was we were all beaten up. We beat up on each other pretty hard. "It's not the microscope that Kentucky is under or Alabama football, because there are other things in the life of a Louisville fan than just basketball."
-- Rick Pitino

FH: Are you under a microscope more when coaching at Kentucky compared with Louisville?

RP: It's not the microscope that Kentucky is under or Alabama football because there are other things in the life of a Louisville fan than just basketball.

FH: Were you surprised Louisville sophomore center Samardo Samuels remained in the NBA draft?

RP: I was not surprised. He knows he's a middle-to-late second-round draft pick, but he thinks the workouts are going to put him in the first round. I can't kill his dream by that. I just told him where he is [projected] right now. His parents made the decision, not him. I can argue with him, not his parents.

FH: Louisville will move into a $249 million, 22,000 seat downtown arena next year. What is it like leaving historic Freedom Hall and how will the new arena impact your program?

RP: It's about the city and revitalizing the city. Trying to get people to live downtown, the restaurants that are opening downtown, trying to be an Indianapolis and this arena will start it all off. For us, basketball-wise, it's the finest arena built. From a recruiting standpoint, it will be so beneficial for us. Freedom Hall was great, but it wasn't a destination. I grew up a [New York] Knicks fan. We would go to the Garden, go to dinner beforehand, get a beer afterward. You made it a social event. At Freedom Hall, you go to a basketball game, try to get there late, get out early. It was just a basketball game. Now it's going to be a social event. People going downtown having dinner and experiencing downtown Louisville. It will be a change of culture for the Louisville fan.

FH: It's been almost 10 years since you came to Louisville and replaced Denny Crum. What was it like having to rebuild Louisville? And you've made a Final Four and two Elite Eights in the past six seasons, what's the future look like for Louisville?

RP: Denny didn't lose his talent, he lost his brand. When you lose players and you don't have players of the level you have, you lose your brand. We had to go in and build the brand back up and now we're re-branding because we're rebuilding right now. We're re-branding. We lost two lottery picks [in 2009 in Terrence Williams and Earl Clark] and now we lost Samardo and we probably won't have a starter back from last year's team. So we're re-branding right now and you do that through recruiting and through the new arena, through new facilities. The new arena is a tremendous recruiting tool. It's the finest. It's tremendous."

Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at or follow on Twitter @BrettmcmurphY

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