He’ll never coach again, that much I’m certain of…not unless he wants to get back in the game at a pro level and at his age I cannot imagine that’s in the cards. In about 90 minutes, his career ends.
He was the coach of a Providence team (led by Billy Donovan) clawing its way to a Final Four. That’s what got him on the map. He had a run with the Knicks which was OK but he had the bad fortune to be there at a time when the Pistons and Bulls were in ascendancy, so his team was never more than an Eastern Conference afterthought. He then rebuilt UK from the ashes of the Eddie Sutton Fed Ex scandal and won a national title there. Left for the Celtics, missed out on the chance to draft Tim Duncan, and never got that franchise back on solid ground. He then replaced Denny Crum at Louisville and won another national title and had the Cards consistently relevant on a national level for most of his 16 years.
As a coach, a pure coach, I think he was among the more innovative and best of his generation. You could make a credible argument that he was THE best in the college game during his era (there are others, including Tom Izzo, for whom you could also make such a claim, but Pitino is definitely in the discussion). His full court pressure stuff with the Knicks was mostly a sideshow, but it worked very well at UK. I’ve been continually impressed with the way his Louisville teams in recent years could switch defenses, even within a possession, and be effective. That is INCREDIBLY difficult to teach and get a team to execute but he did it as well as anyone I’ve ever seen. I think during his time at Louisville, while he certainly had a lot of talent, he never had recruiting classes generally on par with Cal’s UK or Duke or even Kansas and yet he competed with those schools (I think his talent at the Ville has been roughly similar to Izzo’s at MSU…very, very good, but not the true “best” in the game on a consistent basis).
Yet he just couldn’t play it straight. He’s going to be remembered most for the scandals which have engulfed his program over the last few years…his affair (which has no bearing on him as a coach but does contribute to how people view him as being essentially amoral), the prostitution scandal and now buying Tugs Bowen. That’s how history is going to be written about Rick Pitino…it’ll be the lead paragraph in his obituary. It should be. I put him in a category with Larry Brown…absolutely brilliant basketball minds who just could not play the collegiate game straight. Unlike Brown, he could never quite make his thing work in the NBA and that’s a shame for him, because that’s probably where he belonged.