Gophers coach Richard Pitino remembers sitting next to Thad Matta during the Big Ten men’s basketball coaches meeting in Rosemount, Ill. last month thinking Matta would have a bounce back year with Ohio State.
But that would be the last time Pitino saw him as Buckeyes coach after Matta and the university announced Monday they were parting ways.
“You know he’s always had some health issues,” Pitino said Monday afternoon on KFAN-100.3. “The back and the surgeries. You hate to see it. Yeah, he had a couple of down years. But people forget how consistently good he was at Ohio State for a long time. He’s a unique guy. If you get to know him, you love him. He’s a really, really an under-the-radar coach when you talk about self-promotion. There’s nobody who did it less than him. He was just all about his family, his coaches, his players. So it’ll be interesting to see what he does. Because he’s not an old guy. He’s a terrific, terrific coach."
Pitino added: "The timing of that is interesting. You just hate to see that, because I had a great feeling he would bounce back from a couple of bad years. I don't know the whole story, but I wish him well. He's truly one of the good guys in the game.”
The 49-year-old Matta’s next coaching stop, if there is one in the near future, is uncertain. But Pitino, who was named 2017 Big Ten Coach of the Year, is excited about higher expectations and competing for a conference title after going 24-10 during a major turnaround season in 2016-17.
The 34-year-old Pitino quickly shot down questions from fans to the radio station about whether he would listen if the Buckeyes were interested in him.
“I haven’t seen a coaching change in the middle of June in a long time,” he said. “They’ll find a great coach. But I’m certainly extremely, extremely happy like I always say at Minnesota. Fired up about where we’re going.”
Pitino was asked to compare the Minnesota head-coaching job to Ohio State's.
"It's all about the support you get internally," he said. "There's places who don't have great ADs and great administrations. Minnesota's got that. So if you have that it's the most important thing. People talk about facilities and money, but if you have an administration that understands it, whatever that may be, then you have a great job. I do think we have that here. ...There's no reason why you can't win at Minnesota."