Late Surge Sparked Pitino's New Deal

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This is Part I of a three-part series based on Louisville.com's recent conversation with Tom Jurich, Vice President and Director of Athletics for the University of Louisville. Columnist Ron Steiner conducted the interview, which began with a closer look at the thinking behind the new six-year, $23-million contract for Cardinal basketball coach Rick Pitino.

Q. What sparked the thought in your mind that this would be a good time to ext/files/storyimages/and upgrade Coach Rick Pitino's contract'

Mr. Jurich:'When we were nearing the /files/storyimages/of last season, it became really important to me to get Coach Pitino locked in, simply because I thought he did a phenomenal job. He took hold of his team, dealt with all the injuries and obstacles and grew it into something special. At the /files/storyimages/of the year, I thought he had the team playing as well as anybody in the country. It was a great accomplishment. With a very young group like that, the sky's the limit for the future.

Q. What effect did the hiring of the coach's son, Richard, to the Cardinal staff have on your plans to ext/files/storyimages/his father's contract?

Mr. Jurich: I thought it was a great move to hire Richard on the staff. I'm a big fan of Richard Pitino and I've watched him ever since his dad came here. I've watched his development and talked to a lot of people he has worked with, and they just rave about the kid and his work ethic. And we all know nobody is going to get more out of him than his father. I was excited about that decision, and that was when I spoke with Rick and suggested we talk about an extension. He had always talked about this being his final contract. We've always had a face-to-face agreement that as long as he's happy and as long as he's healthy, we'd never let money enter into it. He's happy and certainly healthy, and I've never seen the guy having this much fun. With the staff he's put together and with the type of team he has coming back and what the future recruits look like, it?s an exciting time for all of us.

Q. Many times it seems the worst thing schools can do with highly motivated coaches is take them for granted. Was your plan to make sure that didn't happen with Rick Pitino?

Mr. Jurich: Certainly, I'd like to see him complete his career here by going another six years or seven, eight, nine or 10 if possible. He still has tons of energy, he's a phenomenal recruiter, he's a great bench coach, he brings a lot to the community and he's an unbelievable ambassador for both the university and the athletic program. So the extension was a win-win for everybody.

Q, Evidently, you anticipated this was exactly the right time to make this move. Why now?

Mr. Jurich: With him it was more a feel about the timing. I just wanted to make sure that he's the one who gets the chance to open that new arena, because there's no question he's the one who started the momentum for the project. Without a doubt, his actions guided our 2005 team to overachieve and advance to the Final Four. That got the ball rolling on the arena.

Q. With sales underway for premium seats in the new arena, it seems the contract extension would help give fans confidence the basketball program will be in good hands when they move into the new facility. Was that a factor?

Mr. Jurich: I think it's comfortable for people to know he's going to be here. He's someone people revere. And it's going to be such a beautiful facility. I just can't imagine anyone else coaching those first few years in it considering all he's done for this program.

Q. Does Coach Pitino's new deal virtually eliminate every other college from being able to try to hire him away?

Mr. Jurich: Well, I never felt he would look at another college job, anyway. And as happy as he seems, I can't imagine he would ever look at another coaching job, period. He's been in the NBA and he's had that experience. The way his lifestyle is now, and the way he's embraced Louisville and the way Louisville has embraced him has been a perfect match for everybody. I think the excitement meter is going to continue to go up as our team matures.

Q. Has the match between Rick Pitino and this community been better than even you anticipated?

Mr. Jurich: Yes, without a doubt, because I think he's become so comfortable here. He loves this city.

NOTE: Steiner is a sports columnist for Louisville.com who has covered U of L sports for the past 23 years. He also appears on the statewide Red & Blue Review television show (weekly on Insight Ch. 2) with host Garry Gupton and guest Darrell Bird of the Cat's Pause. Steiner can be reached by e-mail at r.steiner@insightbb.com.

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