ATLANTA — Louisville head coach Rick Pitino is attempting to be the first coach to win Division 1 Men’s Basketball titles with two different programs. Fittingly, he’ll be facing Michigan, the program he agreed to coach before changing his mind and taking over the Cardinals program.
Pitino was at the end of his run with the Boston Celtics in 2001 and he was being courted by several colleges to take over their basketball programs. He had won an NCAA tournament championship with Kentucky in 1996 and was considering three options: Louisville, UNLV and Michigan.
Pitino’s wife, Joanne, was adamant that family not move west of the Mississippi river and so that ruled out UNLV. So it was down to Louisville and Michigan. Rick chose Michigan.
On the day Rick called Michigan’s athletic director at the time, Bill Martin, to accept the head coaching position, Joanne made one last attempt to sway her husband to take the Louisville job instead. Joanne wanted to go back to Kentucky where the family had enjoyed eight great years in Lexington.
“I said to her, ‘You don’t understand. The (former) Kentucky coach can’t coach at Louisville,'” Pitino explained at Sunday’s press conference leading to Monday’s national title game. “It’s a big deal. We don’t want to do that. We’ll be miserable.”
Rick Pitino is an avid reader of books. So Joanne used a common line that Pitino had been using lately in one of the book he was reading.
“She didn’t want to go to Michigan because I’ve never visited there, I didn’t know anybody there,” Pitino said. “She said, ‘You know that line you’re always using. I’d rather live one day as a lion than a thousand as a lamb. You’re a [expletive] lamb,’ and then she walked down the stairs.”
Rick got back on the phone and tried to get a hold of Michigan AD Bill Martin again to explain that he was now not going to be taking the Michigan job. Pitino couldn’t get a hold of Martin so he left a long voicemail explaining his decision to back away from what Pitino called “one of the greatest jobs in the world.”
Michigan would instead hire Tommy Amaker, who was replaced by John Beilein in 2007.
“It was the right move no necessarily for me,” said Pitino Sunday. “But it was the right move for my family.”