UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino has jammed a lot of life into 41 years. Between growing up as the son of Rick Pitino, one of college basketball’s all-time great coaches, and his own career, Pitino has lived in 15 cities and had three college head coaching jobs. He quips that after gigs in Florida, Minnesota, and New Mexico, his next stop will probably be in Alaska. UNM has no plans to have anything like that happen. After Pitino guided the Lobos to 22 wins last season (including a victory over his father’s Iona Gaels), a trip to the National Invitation Tournament, and a 34 percent jump in home attendance, he received a contract extension that will keep him in Albuquerque through the 2027–28 season. “I try really, really hard to see the big picture and not get out of whack with the salary and job,” says Pitino, who has three children with his wife, Jill.
I GOT INTO COACHING because I wanted to impact young people’s lives.
CERTAINLY, WINNING IS PART OF IT, but I also love to see them grow and evolve and become better people in formative years in their lives.
I’M NOT A HUGE CRIER, but I’ve had many moments during the national anthem in the Pit where I teared up. You can tell how important this is to this community. These are not just fans who are coming because it’s cool to be at a game.
THE BEAUTY OF SPORTS is how it brings people together.
YOU’RE GETTING PLAYERS from all over the country and the world. A coach’s job is to provide clarity to all age groups, different nationalities, different backgrounds. You provide the clarity of what we’re all going to do together. That’s what makes it special.
MY MOM AND DAD didn’t care if I was great at basketball or was a 4.0-GPA student. They wanted to raise a child who understood the value of respecting people.
I WAS A HISTORY MAJOR in college.
IT’S NERDY, but I loved Hamilton. Who doesn’t like good stories? That’s what I try to tell people about history.
PEOPLE ALWAYS WANT TO TALK about my dad, and my dad is one of my best friends in the world. But the decision that I made to leave Louisville and go work for Billy Donovan [at the University of Florida] absolutely changed my life. It got me out of my comfort zone.
WHAT BILLY TAUGHT ME IS to be true to what you want to do.
I SEE TOO MANY COACHES in this profession who make it all about them. That’s not me and never will be me.
THE BANTER MY DAD AND I HAD when we played last season won’t end. It’s part of our Northeast background.
FANS HAVE SHOUTED some good stuff at me over the years. I’ve turned around and said, “Good one,” many times.
I BOUGHT MY WIFE’S ENGAGEMENT RING from a family friend when I was an assistant coach at Duquesne, in Pittsburgh.
WE WERE PLAYING TEMPLE, and we had an 11 a.m. shootaround. The game was at 7 p.m. I was driving home after the shootaround with the ring in my bag. I didn’t know how I wanted to propose, but while I was driving, I said, The heck with it, I’ll do it now.
I WENT HOME, and Jill was relaxing. I got down on one knee, and she said, “Are you serious? Now? Can’t I even get dressed up?”
WE WON THE GAME. After, we went out to a beautiful restaurant to celebrate.