Richard Pitino ready to branch out

He thought he would be a high school coach, in the family business but on the anonymous fringe where he could learn without the inevitable comparisons and inherent skepticism.

It would have been so much less complicated, so much easier.

Of course easy would also have been totally against who Richard Pitino is, what his genes dictate.

Easy Street? For the son of a man who has built a Hall of Fame career rebuilding or resurrecting the downtrodden? For the first born of a coach who has endured his fair share of personal loss, public humiliation and professional comeuppance yet keeps going and more, keeps winning?

No, easy wasn’t really an option for Richard Pitino, which is why he is sitting in the rubble at Florida International, cleaning up after the dismissal of Isiah Thomas, with a young roster, a new conference and endless questions about being Rick Pitino's son.

"My whole life I told my dad how easy his job was," Richard said. "It’s not easy by any stretch."

But Richard will be the first to admit he has it far easier than most 30 year olds in their inaugural head-coaching gig. He not only can pick up the phone and call his dad -- which he does daily -- he has a lifetime of observation to call on. Richard was there when his dad engineered the turnaround at Kentucky and there when he crashed and burned with the Boston Celtics.

As an assistant he has watched his father run a practice as well as a program and watched him weather the turmoil of the Karen Sypher scandal.

It has not always been easy to be Rick Pitino’s son, but it has been educational.

"One of the most important things he taught me is that as a head coach in this business, you have to have unbelievable focus and be able to mentally block things out of your mind," Richard said, referencing the Sypher saga. "If he cared about what people thought, if he worried about what people wrote or read those articles, there’s no way he would have survived. If you’re constantly worried about what people are saying about you, your career is going to be over fast."

Plenty, of course, will be chirping now, saying that Richard only got this opportunity because of his surname, convinced before the first tip that he’s in over his head.

And like his dad, he’s just fine with that. In fact, he gets it. He doesn’t apologize for his connections any more than any other well-networked assistant might nor does he deny that the name Pitino gave him entre.

He isn’t, in fact, hung up on carving his own niche or developing his own persona. Comfortable in his own skin, Richard Pitino has no problem if people see him as Rick Pitino’s kid.

"The one thing that always amazed me about my dad is how everybody was always on the same page -- from the managers to the trainers to the players," he said. "Everyone was held accountable in the same way. I think that’s the blueprint to follow and if I wasn’t around him, I wouldn’t be able to have those skills, so I’m not going to apologize for who I am."

Rick Pitino was 24 when he took his first head-coaching spot at Boston University and like his dad, the 30-year-old Richard is not exactly inheriting a cushy job. Florida International rolled the dice with a splash hire when it opted to bring in Thomas but the public relations move didn’t equate to wins. The Panthers won just 26 games in his three-year run, not enough to give him another shot.

The firing left both Thomas and his players stunned and speechless and left Richard Pitino with a depleted roster. Sophomore Dominique Ferguson opted for the NBA instead of returning and coupled with the end of the run for DeJuan Wright, Jeremy Allen and Phil Taylor, FIU is now without its top three scorers.

In their place, Richard Pitino has 10 new faces to take with him as the Panthers upgrade to Conference USA.

"It’s hard for me to predict wins and losses," he said. "What I’m telling our guys is let’s just get better. Let’s not let wins and losses decide whether we’re successful or not. We have a lot of work to do."

As does he. Since he took the job in April, Richard and his family were living in Richard’s parents' place about 45 minutes up the road from campus. On the day he spoke with ESPN.com he was finally ready to move in to his own place, a short commute to the office.

Figuratively and literally, it was time for Richard to move up and move on.