Saturday, March 28

Un-Connon Opinions: Rick Pitino is the last person UCLA should pick to replace Alford

Former Kentucky and Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino has 770 career wins, good for 13th-most in NCAA history. Pitino has won national championships in 1996 and 2013. (Creative Commons photo by Adam Glanzman via Flickr)

It has come to my attention that some fans want the next coach of UCLA men’s basketball to be two-time NCAA champion Rick Pitino.

Hell no.

After firing Steve Alford in December, the Bruins have been preparing for one of the most imperative coaching searches in program history. There’s a lot on the line, and a lot of room for improvement – the Bruins lost in the First Four in 2018 and failed to make the tournament altogether in 2019.

People want a big name, and to be honest, so do I. They also want a disciplined, systematic coach. I’m on the same page.

On paper, Pitino seems like a great fit.

He coached blue blood Kentucky for eight seasons and ACC powerhouse Louisville for 16. He won one NCAA title with each program and even manned the sideline for the Boston Celtics in between the two gigs – albeit not so successfully.

Pitino was and still is a yeller. His former players have said he is an aggressive, rigid coach who doesn’t cut anyone any slack – which is just what UCLA should be looking for.

But this is the real world, not a paper one.

Pitino was fired from the Louisville job in 2017 after an FBI investigation uncovered that he had been working with Adidas officials to pay student-athletes hundreds of thousands of dollars to play for his squad. The NCAA stripped Louisville of its 2013 National Championship, and Pitino was forced to flee to Greece – where he won a league title with Panathinaikos B.C. just last month.

Bringing a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer to the sidelines of Pauley Pavilion doesn’t sound like such a bad idea in theory. But coupled with UCLA Athletics’ current predicament at hand, in addition to drama surrounding the Ball family, Chinese prisons and David Grace’s surprise firing – it becomes nearly impossible to imagine Pitino strolling into Westwood.

The million-dollar, nationwide recruiting and admission scandal is still a hot topic, and UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo could be fired any second now due to his role in the scheme. Hiring Pitino right now wouldn’t only be a catastrophic PR move, it would be a permanent damnation of the school’s integrity.

Trying to distract people from the scandal with a flashy coaching hire for a revenue sport is shallow, but understandable. If that hire is Pitino, it would be downright insulting.

I have faith that athletic director Dan Guerrero and Golden State Warriors executive Bob Myers won’t hire Pitino. There are a dozen other options out there, and I have confidence that the Bruins can poach someone like Tony Bennett, Eric Musselman or Nate Oats.

Are those names as big as Pitino’s? Absolutely not, but everyone needs to take a deep breath. Pitino should not, could not and would not ever be the next head coach at UCLA.

The Bruins won’t touch Pitino with a 10-foot pole, and the sooner people realize that, the better.

Sports editor

Connon is the Sports editor and a reporter on the football and men's basketball beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the baseball, men's soccer, women's golf, men's golf and cross country beats and a reporter on the baseball and women's basketball beats. Connon also currently contributes movie reviews for Arts & Entertainment. Connon is a third-year Communication student from Winchester, Massachusetts.

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