Pitino Accepts Louisville Job

In the end, Rick Pitino's love for Kentucky outweighed the opinions of a few bitter Wildcats' fans.

Pitino became Louisville's coach on Wednesday, five years after he led Kentucky to its sixth national championship.

"Now it's my time to lead the Cardinals back to prominence," Pitino told several hundred Louisville fans, city leaders and past and present players at a pep rally where he was introduced.

Fear of Backlash Nearly Sent Him to Michigan

About six hours earlier, Pitino was ready to turn down Louisville and fill Michigan's coaching vacancy. His wife, Joanne, talked him out of it.

"She said, 'I think you love the state of Kentucky, you love the people you met at UofL. I think you should go back to the place you love,"' Pitino said.

Pitino had said his biggest reservation about accepting the Louisville job was the backlash from UK fans who felt jilted he would even consider coaching the Wildcats' archrival.

Pitino said Wednesday UK fans should respect his decision.

"When I took over [Kentucky], everyone was embarrassed," Pitino said. "It had to be built back up with integrity. When I left, it was not only built up, but it was a model program.

"One game a year, we'll get it on. Outside of that, I'll always root for them."

Aggressive Courtship

Pitino resigned as coach and president of the Boston Celtics in January after 3½ disappointing seasons.

His hiring at Louisville follows a bold, aggressive courtship by athletic director Tom Jurich, who acted as a one-man search committee. Jurich said two weeks ago that Pitino was his only candidate for the job.

"It's been the year from hell, but I see heaven on the horizon," Jurich said.

Pitino has not signed a contract, but Jurich said he's agreed to a six-year deal, worth about $1 million per year. Pitino said money was not a factor in his decision.

"I am back in the state that I love, coaching at a great university that hasn't had an opening in 30 years," Pitino said. "I'm totally pumped up. I can't wait to get started."

Jurich flew to Pitino's Miami home on March 9 and persuaded him to visit the Louisville campus last week.

Pitino left impressed, but said he wanted to consult his family before making a decision. He worked the NCAA Midwest Regional in Dayton, Ohio, as an analyst for CBS before flying to Boston to meet his family Sunday night.

His wife and two youngest children — Ryan, 10, and Jaclyn, 8 — attended Wednesday's pep rally.

Replacing a Legend

Pitino replaces Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum, who retired after months of strained relations with Jurich. The 64-year-old Crum, who led Louisville to NCAA championships in 1980 and '86, had two seasons left on his contract, but accepted a $7 million buyout.

Speculation began immediately that Pitino was Jurich's top choice, and even former Louisville players voiced support.

"This was the guy we had to have," Jurich said. "There was no other answer to fixing this program."

Darrell Griffith, the school's all-time leading scorer and star of its 1980 national championship team, was thrilled with Wednesday's announcement.

"The mere mention of his name alongside this program will boost its stature. He's the most wanted coach out there," Griffith said. "It's also a great compliment to Coach Crum that this program has attracted someone the caliber of Coach Pitino."

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