Gophers coach and family celebrates win over Hoosiers

Published 2:49am Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Column: Notes from Nashville, by Andrew Dyrdal

The look on Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino’s face on Saturday was of pure delight in the closing moments of the Gophers men’s basketball team’s win over Indiana at Williams Arena.

Rick, the famous father of Gophers head coach Richard, and his son, Ryan, slapped hands and sported a grin as wide as Goldy’s when DeAndre Mathieu scored the game-clinching basket in the final seconds. Rick and Ryan hugged and later the eldest Pitino joined his son in the locker room to celebrate a much-needed win.

Rick Pitino has won a lot of games in his coaching career — 680 victories between the NBA and NCAA along with two national championships — but few were probably as joyful as watching his son beat Indiana and their head coach Tom Crean in front of a raucous sold out arena.

Richard has been around big-time basketball his entire life. He was just 5 years old when his dad took over the New York Knicks in 1987 and 14 when Rick won his first NCAA national championship nearly a decade later. Richard has been around some of the greatest programs and venues in the world yet still believes the Gophers have a jewel on the University of Minnesota’s campus in Minneapolis. He said he brags about it all the time to his dad and was proud the arena was as loud as it’s been all season against the Hoosiers when his family arrived.

Rick and Ryan seemed just as excited as the U’s students as the Gophers stopped a three-game losing streak, and Ryan looked the part of an undergrad, too, sitting by his dad in a chicken costume for most of the game — apparently he lost a bet — as if he was part of The Barnyard, the name for the arena’s student section.

The Pitinos seemed genuinely happy sitting behind the Gophers bench and pleased their son and brother has found such a great fit in a coaching job.

The Gophers got off to a surprising start in the Big Ten this season and Pitino’s knack for quickly developing players like Mo Walker and Elliott Eliason had some regional and national media wondering if Pitino’s rising stock would have him out of Minnesota before he could leave a substantial mark.

By the look on Rick’s face on Saturday and Richard’s love of William’s Arena and its fans, I think we can expect the Pitino’s to be cheering on the Gophers for years to come. But don’t expect Rick to don a chicken costume. He looks plenty fine in maroon and gold.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column appears in the Tribune each Tuesday.