Rick Pitino Almost Became the Michigan Coach in 2001
ATLANTA — Rick Pitino could have become the Michigan coach in 2001.
Reiterating a story he has told before, the Louisville coach said that he nearly took the job in 2001 when he returned to the college ranks after leaving the Celtics.
Louisville, of course, will play Michigan here for the national championship Monday night.
Michigan ultimately chose Tommy Amaker, who previously coached Seton Hall.
Michigan, of course, beat Seton Hall in the 1989 NCAA title game.
Anyway, here’s Pitino’s version of the story:
“It was kind of a funny story because I agreed to be the Michigan coach. I lived in Boston right on Com Avenue. We visited Las Vegas. I love Las Vegas. My wife doesn’t like Las Vegas. We had young children at the time. She said, Look, if we were all ‘let’s go,’ we have young kids. I just don’t want to go out west. I don’t want to go to a different time zone. I want to stay near our family.
“It wasn’t Las Vegas as a town, it was the fact that it was west of the Mississippi.
“I’ll go to any job, but want to stay closer to home.
“So I took the Michigan job. That morning I agreed. I forget what the name was, I think it was ‘Outright,’ which when I called the Michigan AD, he didn’t want me to use my real name to get through to him. My wife came up and, as I said, I’m on the third floor, putting together all the things together with the Michigan contract.
“She had a book. There was an expression in the book that, I’d rather live one day as a lion than a thousand as a Lamb. My wife doesn’t swear. She didn’t want to go to Michigan because I’ve never visited there, I didn’t know anybody there. She wanted to go back to Kentucky where she saw the family so happy for eight years.
“I said to her, You don’t understand, the Kentucky coach can’t coach at Louisville. You’re just not getting it. She said, It’s one game every year, and every other year you have to visit. What’s the big deal?
“I said, It’s a big deal. We don’t want to do that. We’ll be miserable. You don’t want to put yourself in that situation.
“She said, You know what, that line you’re always using, I’d rather live one day as a lion than a thousand as a lamb, you’re an F-ing Lamb, then walked downstair.
“I said, Think about it. There’s half a million Kentucky fans in our town. It’s not like living in Lexington where if you wear red, you get shot. It doesn’t work that way.
“She said, I don’t care, your family is going to be happy. Now I have to call the AD [Bill Martin]. It’s 12:00. He had a thing between 12:00 and 1:30. I think it was squash or racquetball, where he can never be disturbed unless it’s a matter of life and death. His assistant said, Is it a matter of life and death?
“I said, No, it’s really, really important. It’s a matter of life and death, because I changed my mind.
“I’m sorry, I can’t put him through to you, do you want his voice mail?
“So now I’m leaving this long voice mail. I rambled on saying it’s one of the greatest jobs in the world, but I have to go back home where my family grew up, my children grew up. I gave a long-winded story. Never till the NIT when I got a chance to speak to him in person about it. I went to Louisville. It was the right move not necessarily for me. But it was the right move for my family.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.