Rick Pitino took several questions about the UK basketball situation yesterday before chiming in at length on his thoughts about what traits the future UK coach should have, and who it should be . . .
Well, Kentucky’s a very unique job. I’m sure it’s very similar to Notre Dame football and Alabama football. I say this last time around, although I did speak to people there, I’m not naming the coach, and it’s none of my business, but I’ll stick my two cents in, okay? For me, last time around, Billy Gillespie is a terrific coach. I would have immediately hired either John Pelphrey and Travis Ford last time around. Here is my reason for. My first choice would have been Pat Riley. I don’t say that in jest. He would have been my first choice because he’s a Kentucky basketball player.
It’s such a unique job that you need to win over the fans. You need to win the press conference right away. The reason Pelphrey and Travis, and I don’t say this because I love both guys dearly as ex-players, I think they’re brilliant young coaches. And Jeremy Foley, the AD of Florida, called me when Billy Donovan was at Marshall. He left me and went to Marshall. And I told Billy not to take the Florida job. The program was decimated. Lon left the Final Four team. They had no players. They were going to dwell in the cellar of the Big East. I convinced Billy not to take that job. At that time he listened to me.
I got a phone call 10 minutes later after I hung up from Billy from Jeremy Foley. He said to me, Rick, I understand you’re talking Billy out of taking this job. I said, I don’t dictate what Billy does. I gave my opinion. I think your talent is not there. I think it’s going to take a long time. And I think he’s got a great future. He said, Speaking of that, let me ask you this question. In three years from now, if Billy Donovan would stay at Marshall or wherever he’s at, if I said to you in three years Billy Donovan will be one of the best young coaches in the game of college basketball, how would you answer me? I said, I agree with you 100%. He said, Okay, so why don’t I give him a seven-year contract, give him the three years, and in four years, and you call him up and tell him I’ll hire him, I’ll give him everything he needs. I’ll never forget that. I called Billy up and I said, I think you’re going to work for a great man, Billy, I’d take the job. He did. And in three years, Billy was one of the bright young stars in the game.
If you said to me right now in three years who will be one of the bright young stars in our game, I would say, without reservation at all, that John Pelphrey or Travis Ford would both be young stars in the game. On top of that, they are beloved by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and all their fans, what they call Big Blue Nation. So for anybody, it’s a big adjustment. For those guys, it’s not. Everybody looks for these marquee names, big names. I think football got really smart. Instead of looking for the marquee names, they went after guys that can really coach and really recruit. It takes a little bit of homework.
But those two guys played for me. They’re tremendous young coaches. I don’t care where they’re at, they love Oklahoma State, love Arkansas, but those two guys, you cut them open, and it spells UK. That’s what I would do. But I have no — it was a long dissertation for a very easy question. Last time around I thought that’s what they should do, because three years from now they’re going to have one of the bright young coaches in the game. Everybody loves though guys for what they represent. You could take the whole nation, myself, Tom Izzo, anybody else into the equation, those two guys would be better than all of us for the job.
That’s my two cents that lasted 20 minutes. Thank you.