Tuesday, March 13, 2001

UK criticism 'bothering' Pitino

But Louisville AD says he's right man for job

By Eric Crawford
Louisville Courier-Journal

        LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With Rick Pitino due to arrive in Louisville late tonight or early Wednesday for a visit, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said he thinks the forceful protests of some University of Kentucky fans are “really bothering” Pitino as he decides whether he wants to become the head coach.

        But Jurich added he is even more convinced that Pitino is the right man for the job after their visit in South Florida last weekend.

        “Nothing is done. There will be an ongoing dialogue,” Jurich said at a news confer ence Monday to discuss his visit to Pitino's home last weekend. “We just had a great time.”

        Jurich acknowledged that negative comments from what he termed “a small group” of Kentucky fans could be an obstacle to the former Kentucky and Boston Celtics coach succeeding Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum, who retired last week at the end of his 30th season in Louisville.

        “I think there's some great consternation going on with some of the things said,” Jurich said. “I think that's really bothering him. He gave his heart and soul to that program. And his feeling is, when he came in there, the state of the program then compared to when he left it was night and

        day. He won a national title there and left a national title program in the hands of one of his assistants, who is a great coach. He feels he's done everything he can.

        “Obviously, he's very sensitive to the feelings of the Kentucky fans, but I think that's something he's going to deal with internally.

        “All I can do is lay out what we want to do for the program and what he could do. I think he's a perfect fit.”

        Jurich reiterated his statement that the coaching search “is a one-horse race, and we're still running.”

        Pitino said Monday night that he would travel to Louisville from Dayton after tonight's Northwestern State-Winthrop NCAA Tournament play-in game. He'll be an announcer on the telecast.

        He said he and his son Richard, a high school senior, would be given a tour of the campus and facilities Wednesday and “meet some people.”

        “I just wanted to show my son the facilities, and I wanted to see some of them for myself,” Pitino said.

        Pitino also denied a report on MSNBC.com by Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News that an agreement should be completed by Thursday.

        “The deal will be the easi est thing to complete. I'm still in a situation where I'm trying to make my decision,” he said.

        Jurich said Cardinals fans have responded with a “landslide of support.

        “I feel great about the visit,” Jurich said. “I don't want to talk about the possibility of him coming here. But what I do feel much better about is that he's a much better fit than I ever thought.”

        But that may depend on how Pitino resolves his feelings about the response of some Kentucky fans, who have labeled him a “traitor,” and worse.

        On Sunday, Pitino told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he was “disappointed” in a small number of Kentucky fans who had reacted the most strongly. Monday, Jurich said, “I don't want this rivalry to be one of hatred.”

        When asked about reports that Michigan may soon be pursuing Pitino, Jurich's only response was, “It's awfully cold up there.”

        If Michigan does as expected today and fires present coach Brian Ellerbe, it is expected to approach Pitino.

        “Michigan is going to make a run at him,” ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said. “They're going to try and hit a grand slam.”

        Pitino said he had not been contacted by Michigan.

Online pool and college hoops coverage at Cincinnati.com

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