When the University of Louisville went looking for its first new men's basketball coach in 30 years just 13 years ago, it didn't just get the best person available. The Cardinals got arguably the best person, period.
Rick Pitino, one of the most brilliant minds in coaching, began a new era in University of Louisville men's basketball when he was named head coach of the Cardinals on March 21, 2001. And as he successfully accomplished at his previous three collegiate coaching stops, it is clear more than a decade later that there couldn't have been a finer choice to continue to lead Louisville to its place among the nation's elite teams.
The first coach in NCAA history to win a national championship at two different schools, Pitino's up-tempo style, pressure defense, strong work ethic and family atmosphere have restored the Cardinals to national prominence where it is firmly seated.
In 29 seasons as a collegiate head coach at five different schools, Pitino has compiled a 695-245 record, a .739 winning percentage that ranks him 11th among active coaches. He has a 341-117 record in 13 seasons at UofL, the third winningest coach in Cardinal history. UofL is among the nations' top 15 programs in winning percentage over the last decade under his guidance. His current contract ties him with UofL through the 2021-2022 season.
The first coach in NCAA history to take three different teams to the NCAA Final Four, Pitino was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, lofty recognition for a lifetime of impressive basketball achievement.
Pitino has a 695-245 collegiate coaching record in 29 seasons, the 11th-best winning percentage among active coaches.
His most recent Cardinals earned the school's 40th NCAA Tournament appearance by winning their third straight conference tournament title. Louisville won both the American Athletic Conference tournament championship and shared the regular season title while advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16 with a 31-6 record and a top five national ranking. Senior guard Russ Smith developed into a consensus All-America selection.
Pitino guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA Championship after claiming the nation's top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and winning the BIG EAST Conference regular season co-championship and tournament titles. The Cardinals won a school-record 35 games while claiming their first NCAA title in 27 years. UofL reached its second straight and10th Final Four, marking Pitino's seventh, a total reached by only five coaches all-time.
A year earlier, Pitino's Cardinals manufactured a thrilling March run that delighted UofL fans. After winning his 600th collegiate coaching victory in the Cards' opening game of the 2011-12 season, UofL embarked on a terrific season in which it won 30 games, claimed the BIG EAST Tournament championship and advanced to the NCAA Final Four after ranking among the nation's top 20 most of the year.
That followed another season of success. Despite opening the season with no regular returning starters in 2010-11, the Cardinals tied for third in the nation's toughest conference and reached the title game of the BIG EAST Championship. Louisville beat seven Top 25 teams and rose to the national rankings themselves after not receiving a single vote in the preseason AP poll.
In 2009-10, Louisville reached 20 victories for the eighth straight year against a top-five rated schedule. Along the way, U of L tied for fifth in arguably the nation's toughest league, beat then top-ranked Syracuse in the regular season finale, and played in the Cards' 36th NCAA Tournament.
The Cardinals earned both the BIG EAST Conference regular season and tournament championships in 2008-09, won 31 games -- fifth most in school history -- and gained the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament before reaching the NCAA Elite Eight for the second straight year. UofL earned its first ever Associated Press No. 1 ranking in the final poll.
Six years ago, his Cardinals overcame early injuries to its front line to win 27 games against a schedule rated as the fourth-toughest in the nation. An aggressive, multiple defensive attack helped UofL earn a second-place finish in the BIG EAST for the second consecutive year and advance to the Cards' second NCAA Elite Eight appearance in four years.
In 2007-08, Pitino's youthful squad also battled through injuries to win eight of its last ten games and rise among the nation's top 20 teams over the last four weeks. The Cards won 24 games, including a pair on the road over top 15 ranked teams, earned a second-place finish in the Big East Conference and were No. 16 in the final Associated Press ranking.
The Cardinals were No. 3 in the nation in the final 2004-05 ESPN/USA Today poll while posting a stellar 33-5 record, matching the most victories in UofL history. UofL won its first-ever Conference USA regular season title and also claimed the league tournament championship. Louisville reached its first NCAA Sweet 16 since 1997 as the No. 4 seed in the Albuquerque Regional before advancing to its first NCAA Final Four since 1986. Pitino, who made his fifth Final Four appearance, became the first coach ever to guide teams from three different schools to the Final Four.
The successes of the 2005 Final Four squad were built upon the efforts of his early teams at UofL. A year before that Final Four advancement, the Cardinals won 16 straight during one stretch and rose to as high as fourth in the national polls before a trio of key injuries disrupted the Cardinals' flight. UofL won 20 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in six years. Pitino gained his 400th career coaching victory with a 73-65 victory over then top-ranked Florida on Dec. 13, 2003, the first of two wins that season UofL achieved over No. 1 ranked foes.
In his second year at UofL in 2002-03, the Cardinals reached the No. 2 position in the Associated Press poll and spent time as the nation's top team in the Ratings Percentage Index and Sagarin Ratings. After a 1-1 start, the Cardinals reeled off an incredible 17 straight victories, one short of the school record and the second-highest ever in Conference USA history. UofL won its first-ever C-USA Tournament title.
Pitino did not ease into his tenure at UofL. In his first year with the Cardinals in 2001-02, he guided an undersized, often outmanned squad to a 19-13 record, upsetting the nation's fourth-ranked team along the way to earning a post-season tournament appearance in the NIT, nearly reversing the Cardinals fortunes the season prior to his arrival (12-19 in 2000-01).
Even under great adversity, Pitino's teams have persevered. Louisville battled through destructive injuries and inexperience during the 2005-06 season to post a 21-13 record in its first year in the BIG EAST Conference, concluding the year in the NIT national semifinals.
A 2006 inductee to the New York City Hall of Fame, Pitino has the second-highest winning percentage in NCAA Tournament games among active coaches, winning 75 percent of his games in the post-season event with a 48-16 record in 18 tournament appearances. Pitino is one of only two coaches (along with North Carolina's Roy Williams) in NCAA history to have led two different schools to at least three Final Fours each. He is one of only four coaches (also Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith) ever to guide a school to the Final Four in four separate decades. Pitino is one of a select group of eight coaches who have taken teams from four different schools to the NCAA Tournament. He is one of eight coaches all-time who have reached the Final Four on at least six occasions.
Twenty-seven former Pitino assistant coaches or players have become collegiate head coaches.
Pitino's impact goes beyond the teaching, motivation and X's and O's of his on-the-court skills. His incredible charisma, tireless work ethic, captivating speaking skills and widespread appeal not only mesmerize the Cardinal faithful, but have the college basketball world abuzz as well. His arrival in Louisville generated incredible attention beyond the borders of the state he and his family have come to love.
Pitino is known for getting his players to believe in themselves, instilling the desire to succeed and driving his players to overachieve. His former players speak of their coach's caring nature beyond their basketball skills. Twenty-six of his former assistants or players have become collegiate head coaches.
For three and a half years, Pitino served as president and head coach of the NBA's Boston Celtics. With the Celtics, he took over a team that had posted a franchise worst 15-67 record before his arrival. He quickly made an impact, improving the Celtics' victory total by 21 games in his first season. He resigned his position with the storied franchise on Jan. 8, 2001 after compiling a 102-146 record there.
He guided Kentucky to three NCAA Final Four appearances in his last five years at Kentucky, winning the 1996 NCAA Championship and reaching the national title game in 1997. In eight seasons with the Wildcats, he amassed a 219-50 record (.814) while winning two league crowns and an impressive 17-1 record in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. While at Kentucky, Pitino coached three Wildcats who earned All-America honors and eight players who were drafted by the NBA, including six in the first round (three lottery picks).
Pitino is the first coach to take 3 different schools to the Final Four and first to win a title at 2 different schools.
Pitino, 61, got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant at Hawai'i in 1974 and served as a full-time assistant there in 1975-76 when he was the head coach for the last six games of the season (2-4) when the head coach was relieved of his duties. He served two seasons as an assistant at Syracuse under Jim Boeheim from 1976-78.
Pitino was only 25 years old when he accepted his first head coaching job at Boston University in 1978. He produced a 91-51 record in five years there, departing as the most successful coach in BU history. In his final season there, he guided the Terriers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 24 years. He was twice named New England Coach of the Year (1979, 1983).
Pitino left Boston U. to become an assistant coach for the New York Knicks from 1983-85, where he worked with head coach Hubie Brown. It was a team he would return to lead as its head coach in two seasons.
He was head coach at Providence College for two seasons (1985-87), producing a 42-23 record there. He guided the Friars to an NCAA Tournament appearance in 1986 and an improbable trip to the NCAA Final Four in 1987, winning the regional title in Freedom Hall.
Before his stint at Kentucky, Pitino served as head coach of the New York Knicks for two seasons. In his initial year there in 1987-88, the Knicks improved by 14 victories and made the NBA Playoffs for the first time in four seasons. The Knicks won 52 games in 1988-89 and swept the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Aside from his hoops prowess, Pitino has achieved success off the court as well in such realms as broadcasting, publishing, motivational speaking and horse racing. He is an accomplished author, producing such books as the best sellers "Success Is A Choice" and "Lead to Succeed," as well as his latest offering "The One-Day Contract."
He earned his degree in 1974 at Massachusetts, where he was a standout guard for the Minutemen's basketball team. His 329 career assists rank eighth all-time at UMass and his 168 assists as a senior is the sixth-best single season total ever there. Pitino was a freshman during NBA legend Julius Erving's senior year.
Born Sept. 18, 1952, Pitino is a native of New York City where he was a standout guard for Dominic High School in Oyster Bay, Long Island. There, he captained his team and established several school scoring marks.
Pitino and his wife Joanne have five children -- Michael, Christopher, Richard, Ryan and Jacqueline -- and six grandchildren -- Anna, Audrey, Alex (Michael and wife Bethany's children), Andrew, James (Christopher and wife Brucie's children), and Ava (Richard and wife Jill's child).