Two things became clearer Tuesday when it came to Richard Pitino's future as Gophers men's basketball coach.
For one, Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle pledges to make the decision on Pitino after the season. Secondly, Pitino said he is not giving up on this year — at all.
Pitino, in his eighth season at Minnesota, deadpanned on his weekly radio show that Coyle "could fire me in a couple weeks," but that his relationship with his boss is still in great shape.
"I know everybody has decided that it's already going to happen," Pitino said. "I believe he wants me to win the next two games and wants me to win four games in the Big Ten tournament."
Entering Wednesday's game at Penn State, the Gophers(13-12, 6-12 Big Ten) have lost 10 of 13 games, including five in a row. Pitino's emotional postgame comments to the Gophers after Saturday's loss led some members of the team believing he won't be back to coach next season, sources told the Star Tribune.
But players such as Gophers captain Marcus Carr appeared more focused on a late turnaround than their head coach's job status.
The point guard, who had a career-high 41 points Saturday, said the team's mentality hasn't changed.
"We know a lot of people are definitely doubting us and counting us out now," Carr said Tuesday. "But we really think we can go get these next two [games] and gain some momentum. Go into the Big Ten tournament strong and hopefully make a run."
Although he admitted Tuesday on getting emotional with his players after losing to the Cornhuskers, Pitino also said he hasn't given up on the season at all.
"There's all these reports that are saying I think I'm done," he said. "That's not true at all. I have full confidence that we're going to get some wins. We need to get healthy."
On WCCO-AM 830 Tuesday, Coyle dismissed any talk of decisions being made on Pitino during the season.
"I don't talk about our coaches until the seasons are over, and you have to look at the entire body of work," Coyle told the station.
Pitino's contract runs through the 2023-24 season. A $1.75 million buyout is owed if Pitino would be dismissed by April 30. Coyle addressed how buyouts potentially play into the university's heavy financial losses during the pandemic.
"As you know, President [Joan] Gabel and our board of regents have been so supportive and we work closely with them," Coyle told WCCO. "Our goals are always to make the best long-term decisions for the institution and our athletic program. So, we'll have to weigh in all the factors as we look at all of our coaching positions."
The Gophers were a Top 25 team for five weeks this season, but Coyle mentioned the adversity that they have endured after that strong start, including injuries to center Liam Robbins (sprained ankle) and guard Gabe Kalscheur (broken finger). Kalscheur is out indefinitely. Robbins has still not been cleared to play Wednesday at Penn State.
"As you know, this team has beaten five ranked teams in the in the Top 25 this year," Coyle said on the radio. "We're capable of playing with anybody. We've had some tough injuries down the stretch. So, we're going to do everything we can to support Richard and the team with their final two regular season games and a run in Indianapolis at the Big Ten tournament."
On Tuesday, Coyle and Pitino sidestepped anything about what conversation could happen after the season.
Pitino said they talked Friday after the Gophers lost to Northwestern, partly about how Coyle could help him. The embattled Gophers coach said his AD couldn't unless he could magically get his players healthy again.
"He's going to have to make tough decisions," Pitino said. "And that's fine. It's a big-boy business. But he's been very, very supportive and I know he'll support me until the end."