Pitino rumor is humorous
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 11/27/2000

Of all the interesting rumors lately, the most amusing involves Rick Pitino returning to the University of Massachusetts, if things don't work out for Bruiser Flint this year.

I spent all weekend thinking about this. I even purchased one of Tim Russert's magic marking boards, the better to list all the pros and cons of whether Pitino would be conning us about leaving the pros, or whether he'd actually trade in his $50 million contract for gift certificates to his favorite downtown Amherst restaurant.

After careful review, all I can say is this: Have we all gone nuts?

Let's be clear. Members of the public may cry out for a Flint column after Saturday's loss to Holy Cross, but this is a Pitino column. The UMass season is only three games old, and far too early to draw broad conclusions, as uneasy as the opening acts have left us feeling.

No, let's instead look at Pitino, who took his future into his own hands by declaring if this year's Celtics team his fourth didn't improve noticeably, he wouldn't stick around to keep trying.

Pitino has taken most of the fun and fascination out of coach-watching. With other teams, we can still wonder what Dan Duquette, Bob Kraft, Harry Sinden or Bob Marcum are thinking about their coaches.

Pitino is evidently his own final master, so with no executioners at the ready, he's decided to put the gun to his own head. "If I don't shape up," he has basically declared, "I'll run my butt out of town."

The UMass rumor is a dreamer's paradise. Pitino played for Jack Leaman in the early 1970s and still likes his old coach, with whom his relationship is smoother now than when he played. But he doesn't sit around the household, wearing his UMass sweatshirt and munching popcorn on the sofa as he idles his free time away.

In fact, Pitino became so sore that UMass never retired the number of Al Skinner, a Pitino teammate, that it reportedly affected his attitude toward donating money to the school.

So rest assured that even if the UMass job opened up, he won't donate his life to a job whose pay and expectations make it far less attractive to big-name coaches than UMass fans want to think. They all wanted John Calipari to run back here, too, remember?

In general, I tend to root for coaches, if only because we think instant solutions are gained by their removal, and then are repeatedly reminded that they're not.

When Pete Carroll left Foxboro to a hail of ridicule, we got Bill Belichick, who announced last week that no lineup changes were imminent because, we can surmise, a few new faces might cause the Patriots to lose, God forbid.

I am concerned about Flint, because I respect the guy, and we'll leave it at that for now. Mike Keenan took over for Pat Burns, and the 3-1 losses suddenly because 8-3 losses.

Pitino has never failed before, and watching him fail in Boston has been distressing because it suggests if he can't do it, nobody can. He came in 1997 as the designated savior, a reputation he didn't declare on his own, but also did little to dispute.

This year's team, while quite flawed, is probably his best. For a time, it looked like the Celtics would go 41-0 at home and 0-41 on the road, which would probably be good enough to reach the playoffs.

The NBA has so many bad teams that he might make it, anyway. But if Pitino leaves the Celtics, here's my scenario: he'll blab on TV for a year and then he'll wind up at a program like UCLA, not one like UMass.

I still hold hope it will work out with the Celtics, just as I hope things turn around for Flint. Besides, Pitino wouldn't be the only coaching great looking for a job. Bobby Knight hasn't been checking out real estate prices in Amherst, has he?


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