Richard Pitino knows when to put his father in check.
Before the Minnesota coach's team played in the NIT championship game against SMU last season, his dad, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, asked him why he didn't choose to foul when up three late against Florida State two nights earlier. Rick Pitino began peppering his son with questions and suggestions. Most 32-year-old head coaches would stop and listen to the Hall of Famer, a man who guided Louisville to the 2013 national championship. But Richard Pitino had heard enough.
"What are you doing now? What are you doing here today?" Richard Pitino asked his dad.
"What are you driving at?" Rick Pitino responded.
"I'm still coaching and you're not," Richard Pitino said, an ever-so-subtle nod to the fact the Louisville's season had ended with a Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky, while Minnesota still had some postseason work to do.
The two shared a laugh, then watched the exact scenario resurface in Minnesota's NIT title game with SMU. Television cameras found Rick Pitino, as involved from his seat a few rows behind the Gophers' bench as he is when he's coaching from the sideline.
With Minnesota up three with five seconds left, Rick Pitino said he couldn't wait to see the game action play out without getting tipped off as to to how it would go. He wondered if his son had learned from the previous game and yelled out to then-Minnesota video coordinator Casey Stanley.
"Is he going to foul?" Rick Pitino asked.
Richard Pitino said he was focused so much on what was happening on the court that he hadn't heard his father the entire game. But, in that moment, he did hear.
"Finally, I turned to him and I said, 'I am going to foul,'" Richard Pitino said.
"I start laughing and I yell it's about time you started fouling," his father responded.
No one wants Minnesota basketball to win more than Rick Pitino.
He follows his son and the Gophers so closely that if the Cardinals are playing at the same time, he has Louisville sports information director Kenny Klein give him scoring updates during his game.
That won't be necessary Nov. 14, when father and son face off. Louisville and Minnesota will play in the Armed Forces Classic (7 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN.com) in Puerto Rico to open the season.
Rick and Richard Pitino sat down with ESPN.com for separate interviews to discuss growing up Pitino and what it will be like to face each other.
Rick Pitino admitted he was inclined not to play the game. Richard Pitino thought it would be good for his Minnesota program to play a game that will get big exposure because of the two coaches roaming the sidelines. But the elder Pitino believes there is more to the story.
Rick Pitino: I know him. He thinks, without question, he can beat us. There's not a doubt in his mind, but he won't say that. Oh, what's his line, they're the Tampa Bay Rays and we're the Yankees. But that was before. He thought Montrezl [Harrell] was gone (for the NBA draft), so he wanted that game in the worst way. Now he's got a little trepidation because Montrezl came back, so know he knows it's a flip of a coin.
Richard Pitino: I talk about wanting to get to his level and we're not there yet. That takes a lot of time. I mean, we're going to be the marquee game playing on national TV on the first day [of the season] in college basketball. That's great for my program. I don't think he's going to have a problem wanting to beat me when the game starts. I can promise you that.
Rick Pitino: Jacqueline and Joanne [his daughter and wife] will sit behind Richard's bench. Michael, Ryan and Chris [Rick Pitino's other sons] will be for me. He's fighting over Chris. He knows Michael and Ryan are for me, he's trying to buy Chris.
What will the postgame handshake be like should Minnesota win?
Richard Pitino: That will be different because I think he'll know that it will be good for our program if we win. And in the end, he wants what's best for my program just like I want what's best for his program. So that 40 minutes we're going to try to beat each other, but once the buzzer sounds ... I think if I lose to him I'm going to be happy for him and if he loses to me we're all going to be happy for each other. That's the best part about it really, somebody hopefully is going to have a very good, quality win.
They're really competitive with each other only when it comes to golf. Basketball never really fit into that category because of the bond they shared. Before Richard Pitino could form a solid memory of what was going on, he was sitting in then-Providence guard Billy Donovan's lap before the Friars practiced during the 1987 Final Four.
When his dad moved on to coach Kentucky, Richard Pitino would walk to Memorial Coliseum to catch the last bit of practice, do his homework in his dad's office, then take the court himself to get a few shots up. They've lived a life with basketball. The opener simply will be a celebrated extension of that for the matriarch, Joanne; sons Chris, Michael and Ryan; and daughter Jacqueline.
Rick Pitino: Everything in our house revolved around basketball -- you know, our vacations, our trips. We used to have so much fun, the three of them going to Knick games. When they could make the games, we'd take a limo in and then we'd stop at the Carnegie Deli and get sandwiches and french fries for the ride home. We had 45 minutes to an hour ride home. Back then, it was a lot of time together.
Richard Pitino: Our whole life really revolved around his job, and that's not to say he made it about himself. I think more than anything it was because we all loved being around it. We all loved being a part of it. That was kind of second nature. That's why it's kind of funny to see him at my games just because, for my whole life, it's been going to his games.
Losses used to hit the old man hard. There was no smiling or laughing in the aftermath, only misery while he wrestled with what went wrong. Hubie Brown tried to tell him differently. There were too many games to obsess over one loss and, frankly, in most cases the players' ire could never match the coach's. And that strategy worked for Rick while he toiled through the 82-game NBA season. That changed once he returned to campus.
Richard Pitino: He is the worst loser on the planet. He's not one of those guys who can shut it down when he gets home. I mean, you basically had to hide from him. The one thing that he does great more than anything is he makes it so bad when you lose that everybody -- top to bottom -- wants to win.
Rick Pitino: I wasn't a terrible loser in the pros; at Kentucky, I was primarily. Here's why: There was one time when we lost to Louisville and I was working out downstairs and there was a knock on the door. This woman said she needed to see me. And she said, your dad is going to need this ... it was [a copy of] the movie "The Bodyguard." We called the police and they found her. She snuck out of a mental institution and was looking for me because we lost. She was off her medication. So only at Kentucky did we take losing really, really terribly.
Well, maybe not just during his time at Kentucky. Even though both father and son say he's much better after his experience with the Celtics, it didn't totally change. Rick Pitino once drained the laughter from a night out watching his sons' favorite comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, doing live standup. The family had secured tickets before Louisville's 70-65 loss to Dayton on Dec. 8, 2007. After the defeat, Richard Pitino thought there was no way his dad would still want to go.
Richard Pitino: Sure enough, he comes to me and was like, "We're going." I was like, "This is going to be awful." We sat there and he just stared at the funniest man on the planet and didn't laugh. And I didn't know whether to laugh or what. That was one of the moments I thought was funny. He's gotten so much better, so much better. Because he was really bad after losses and now I think he's gotten a lot more calm after losses and he understands it's not my fault or one of his other kids' faults.
Rick Pitino: Well, I knew they wanted to go; they were all big Seinfeld fans. So I went, but I guess I didn't want to laugh. At that point in time. I enjoyed it as much as I could enjoy it. I give myself 24 hours after a loss. After that, I'm totally on to the next game. But for 24 hours, I'm not a happy man.
Rick Pitino's experience in Boston changed that more than anything else. It was the one rebuilding job in which he didn't succeed. (For the record, Richard Pitino did tell his dad not to trade Chauncey Billups.) It helped the entire family to not take winning for granted.
Richard Pitino: He signs this big deal, president of the Celtics, head coach -- OK, here's another opportunity. He's going to win. You're not going to not win because that's who he is and that's what he's done his whole life. It just shows it takes a lot of things to go your way to win at that level and anybody can lose. Anybody. It was humbling for everybody. It definitely changed him dramatically and changed us all dramatically, to appreciate what we have and not necessarily worry about the wins and losses part of it.
Rick Pitino talked two of his sons out of going into coaching. His oldest, Chris, and youngest, Ryan, both thought they wanted to follow in his footsteps. He couldn't convince Richard to listen. Richard served as an assistant high school coach while still an undergrad at Providence. He zeroed in on becoming a college coach while serving as a glorified manager/graduate assistant at Providence.
Richard Pitino: Every step forward that I took towards [coaching] he was very, very supportive. But he would also warn you about some of the tough parts about it, because it's not just coaching. Certainly he was more informative.
Rick Pitino described a childhood in which he practically raised himself from the age of 6. Growing up in a lower middle-income family, "there were no nannies around," while his parents worked from sunup to sundown. Rick Pitino made it on his own and he would not extend a silver spoon to Richard simply because he could.
Rick Pitino: If you're going to go into it having your last name, you have to work harder than everybody because people are going to think things are given to you. I wanted him to earn it. I just wasn't going to help him in any way; he had to help himself.
Richard Pitino: More than anything I wanted to learn from other people. I wanted to learn what to do. I wanted to learn maybe what not to do. I know my dad's way and now I wanted to see other ways to do it. Growing up you start to think your dad's way is the best way. I realized then you've got to do it the way you feel comfortable doing it. Working for all those other coaches was easily the best thing I ever did.
Rick Pitino's way of helping his son was to work him harder than anyone else on the payroll. He used to alternate scouting report duties among three staff assistants at Louisville -- until Richard arrived.
Rick Pitino: I'd say 90 percent of [the scouting reports] were his. I just made it really difficult on him because I wanted him being mentally tough. When you become a head coach in this day and age you have to be mentally tough.
Richard Pitino: My second stint in Louisville, I thought I impacted the program. I'm not so sure I was impacting the program as much my first time around more so because I was just trying to stay out of his way. Working at Florida gave me the confidence that I could challenge [Dad], I could make him better.
The younger version of Rick Pitino was known for telling his assistants they were fired when an opponent did something that didn't show up on the scouting report. They weren't really fired in the middle of a game, but he was pretty unhappy.
Rick Pitino: That was the old Kentucky years. Nobody at Louisville got fired. I would say tongue-in-cheek, "Where you going to be working tomorrow?" or something like that, but it really was tongue-in-cheek.
Richard Pitino: He is relentless on everybody during that game, but the best part about him is he will legitimately say after his press conference he switches and now he can kind of relax. But the intensity level that he gets to during a game, I never get to because I couldn't focus. That's an amazing, amazing characteristic that he has. By me not having the same sideline demeanor as him ... it isn't that his is wrong. For all coaches it's how can you get yourself comfortable on that sideline to think about what you're doing and that's just how I am. We are different, but we certainly have some similarities as well.
Richard Pitino is the first to admit that style is not one of their similarities. Rick Pitino is smooth, wearing tailor-made Italian suits and throwing on the all-white ensemble during a "white out" fan promotion. He plopped down payment for a couple of Ermenegildo Zegna suits -- which run about $3,000 apiece -- to get Richard Pitino's wardrobe up to par.
Rick Pitino: I took him to Miami and Bal Harbour and bought him suits -- suits that he would never buy. I told him if he throws a Zegna sports coat into the stands, I said that's it, you'll buy your own. You'll go to Joseph A. Bank and get four-for-one, but I'm not buying you any anymore.
Richard Pitino: If I had it my way I'd alternate between one or two suits like I did at FIU. Now you have to certainly present yourself the right way. He's obviously a great dresser. I'm definitely not in that category. Those [Zegna] are big-time suits. That was almost like him telling me, OK it's time to step up in your wardrobe as well as everything else. Certainly now that you're at this stage and on TV all the time you have to look presentable. I'm not a fashion guru.
But he is aware of how something as simple as coaching in an all-white suit can help rally fans around the program. After all, he's seen it firsthand.
Richard Pitino: The white suit shows what a great marketer he is -- not so much the stylish part of it. What he does is he gets everybody to buy in and get excited about his program. More than anything, that's a perfect example of it. I don't think I would ever wear a gold suit. But we'll see, that white suit -- if it gets everybody excited -- I'll wear whatever.
Richard Pitino is entering just his second season at Minnesota and his third season as a head coach. Although he exchanges multiple texts a day with his father, often involving basketball, he rarely asks for advice related to X's and O's. Richard Pitino proved he'd grown up in that category, most notably in his mind, during Louisville's 2012 Elite Eight win over Florida. He had just served as an assistant on Billy Donovan's staff at Florida the previous season before rejoining the Cardinals. He tried to get his dad to change the defensive game plan.
Richard Pitino: I remember it like it was yesterday. We were in Phoenix and I'm downstairs watching a film and having a cup of coffee. I just told my dad we cannot play zone, we have to play man. I remember he told me, "Would you quit being so scared? Let's stick to the game plan." And sure enough during the game -- I mean it's his show, as an assistant you try to stay out of his way, but I kept trying to throw it to him. "Can we please go 5 [man-to-man]? Can we please go 5?" And finally we did and [rallied to win]. So I've got that one on him.
Rick Pitino: I haven't seen him make any mistakes yet. A lot of times I'll give him an idea and he'll say, I thought of that. Or he'll call and say 'what would you do in that situation' and I've said 'I thought you made the right move.' So I haven't had a situation where I've said I would do it differently.
While their strategies might sometimes overlap, Richard Pitino doesn't spend his time trying to become the next Rick Pitino. And his father is fine with that.
Richard Pitino: I'm 32 years old, I've only been a head coach for two years, so I probably don't deserve this job. I'm very lucky, but I don't think being Rick Pitino's son is going to help me beat Tom Izzo at Michigan State or beat Thad Matta at Ohio State. I don't think any of it matters anymore. The opportunity is here, now I have to take advantage of it.
Rick Pitino: I just want Richard to be a great family man, be great to his players and reach his potential as a coach. I don't want him to be measured to me or Billy [Donovan] or anybody else. I just want his barometer to be his players and what they think of him. That's the only thing I look at as a measuring stick.