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  • Joseph Meade

Why College Sports May Need Rick Pitino and Urban Meyer

As March Madness and the college basketball season winds to an end, many of our readers shift their focus to the offseason carousel whether that be coaching, the NBA Draft, or the Transfer Portal. However, much of our audience and listeners of my podcast with Sean shift their attention to football. Specifically, we see an attention to quarterback battles, depth concerns, and who will perform in their team’s annual spring game. Whether you make college basketball or football the concern for your offseason, the summer will often concern more of the same with roster movement and attention to recruiting battles.

It would be naive to acknowledge the offseason without mentioning the coaching carousel. In most of the country’s opinion, a highlight of this coaching carousel was St. Johns hiring Rick Pitino. To many, Hall of Fame Coach Rick Pitino needs no introduction. He is the only coach who has won a national championship at a different school, is one of two coaches to take three schools to the Final Four (his rival Calipari being the other), and became a mystery after his unceremonious departure from Louisville (the school he was at the longest). Okay, maybe mystery is a stretch. A crowd of people knew Pitino had gone to Greece in two separate stints to coach Greek EuroLeague team Panathinaikos and found his way back to the college basketball scene at Iona College (which later became Iona University). However, any claim that Pitino was in the spotlight in the greater universe of college basketball would be a lie. If you do not believe that, ask yourself these two questions. Firstly, how many teams in the Euroleague can you name and can you explain the format? Secondly, how many teams in Iona’s conference can you list?

Sure, Pitino is a legend but the majority of the CBB landscape did not consider Pitino at the forefront of their viewing periphery in the last five years. It would also be safe to assume that many justly or unjustly associate him with scandal and certainly controversy. Though it would be unfair to acknowledge this without saying that Pitino was cleared by an independent legal committee known as the IARP for the Louisville incident. Pitino has consistently maintained his innocence while many of his assistants and other associates of Louisville have been charged. Pitino’s arrival at St. Johns, one of the most iconic brands in the Big East has brought a renewed energy to a fanbase starving to be at the forefront again. Most notably Pitino is now back in the spotlight. With that said, a very compelling case can be made that this is great for the sport.

College Football and Basketball are so different. The games, the style, the crowds, the money are just a few of the millions of differences a middle school fan could list. However, like college basketball, many like to cast some football coaches off as villains. One of the most popular targets is Urban Meyer. Like Pitino, Urban Meyer is a Hall of Fame level coach. He has won national championships at two different schools (three titles in total), has won conference titles and BCS/NY6 Bowl Games at 3 different schools, and has also become somewhat of a puzzle.

Puzzle because Urban Meyer still is somewhat in the spotlight. Fox Big Noon Kickoff features Urban as one of the lead analysts and to no one’s surprise he has gotten phenomenal reviews as a personality. Simply put, Meyer knows football and is a great teacher (which gives us a glimpse of how phenomenal a tactician he is). With that being said, this offseason has had the spotlight cast away from Meyer. Much of the attention is dispersed and although there lacks a presence of a clash between Jimbo and Saban, someone would be hard pressed to get a crowd of people who have made Meyer the center of their offseason.

Last offseason, Meyer was a punching bag for his objective failure of a tenure for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. Whether it was the bar video, the accounts of players who claimed Meyer was out of touch, or the losses. The Jaguars are not the only story for this kind of controversy. Meyer was rarely criticized for the control of his programs at Florida and Ohio State on the field, it was the conduct off the field that made Meyer new enemies in the media and CFB universe. Though Meyer was only suspended once by his superiors for how he handled situations and publicly took responsibility, many believe he is shady. Without question, Urban is a well-spoken, intelligent coach and analyst who off the field seems to be a normal, easygoing everyday dad and grandad.

While facts can sway one in any direction, it does give some footing for critics to jab both men and cast a cloud over them despite their unbelievable records of success (which could be a factor in why this much criticism takes place). Like anyone’s favorite cartoon or superhero show growing up, making a villain is easy. Especially, if that villain wins and is mired in some controversy. In fact, some feel it is necessary for the storyline of the sport. After all, have you ever seen a coach who did not have a large amount of admiration where they won a national championship? If you do not believe that, check the pulses of a good number of Kentucky Basketball and Florida Football fans who for various reasons still do not view Rick or Urban favorably.

This article will not explore the obvious storylines between Rick and Urban. Frankly a high schooler with critical thinking skills could figure out that they are both historically successful coaches where controversy followed. But it does pose the question. No matter how you feel about either or both men, are they both beneficial for the sport especially at this time?

The past 3 years have seen an increase in legends or entertaining characters leaving the business. These include Coach K, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams, Jay Wright, Mike Leach, Ed Orgeron, and many more. Opinions aside, all names listed were unique personalities and strategists who brought even more interest into the sport.

Interest follows both Rick and Urban even when they are in the metaphorical dark. For example, how many big time jobs came open like Nebraska, LSU, and Texas in the past couple years where Urban was listed as a candidate. The same can be said for Pitino with Indiana, Maryland, Texas Tech, Georgetown, and ultimately St. Johns. Were some of these clickbait or without the slightest bit of credibility? That is very likely. But it does show that the enigma around both men is as strong as ever even when away from the sidelines.

How about when Urban and Rick say they are done coaching? Rick reiterated that he would never coach in college again. You can look as far back as his interviews with ESPN and Dan Patrick in 2018 to see his take. Obviously, Rick found his way back to college nearly two years later. After three years at Iona, Rick is back in the spotlight of the world’s most famous city (one starving for a contender again). What about Urban? As Urban’s time came to a close at both Florida and Ohio State, he seemed to accept the idea that he was done coaching, famously citing health and family as the biggest factors. Though some theorists believe Urban was asked nicely to leave. Regardless of the validity of the claim, Meyer found his way back on the sideline nearly two years after his final victory at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day 2019. Though his comeback story was not as successful as Pitino’s, history shows that Meyer could make his return. Like Pitino, Meyer loves the sport he coaches and did not become an analyst or podcast host for the money. At 58, Meyer is about 12 years Pitino’s junior. Can one be confident that he never returns to the sideline?

The author does not seek to criticize either man for returning to their passion after saying they were finished. After all, passion is what any man seeks. This is why letting it go is not only hard but for some it is impossible. The recurring rhetoric only seeks to show that both men’s love for basketball or football is so strong they could never disassociate themselves. To disassociate is not strong enough however, the men feel they have to fully dive into their passion.

If one views this as two men who are in their latter stages of working life doing what they love, there would be little room to have issues. People feel the issue is what their return or probable return signifies for the sport. Is it right that both men who have been linked to scandal keep coming back because they are winners? That's a question that many people ask. Ultimately that is a question too big for a sports blog to answer simply because only Meyer and Pitino know all the truths regarding those incidents.

What is true is that both men bring a lot of attention to the sport because both are schematically and developmentally brilliant. Their brilliance brings them copious amounts of success and championships. More importantly, they bring a new contender to the table and at this stage. These contenders are likely big names like Louisville Basketball, Kentucky Basketball, Florida Football, and Ohio State Football. Teams and brands like those are impossible to not think of when you think of each sport especially in the past two decades.

Was it fun to talk about the legendary Rick Pitino returning to the sidelines of a program starving for success from 2019-2022 before he was hired at St. Johns? Of course it was. On the same wavelength, it is just as fun to ponder Urban coming back to college football to turn around the fortunes of a once proud powerhouse. After all, this is why the offseason and the days in the fall not called Saturday can be so entertaining. The idea of any pastime winner coming back is exciting not only for their fanbase, but for everyone. This is why either man returning to center stage is intriguing because they are safe bets to win. We say safe bet as they have done that everywhere (in college) they have been.

Whether you agree with their methods or not, you are going to tune in, click that article, or ponder in your head about both legendary coaches. Like it or not, neither of them are going away and the idea of them will never go away. Whether you feel they are necessary or not for each sport is irrelevant because they are here to stay.

by Joe Meade

photo: Getty Images

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Sean Vowells
Sean Vowells
Apr 03, 2023

I can name all the teams in Iona's conference


Sean Vowells
Sean Vowells
Apr 03, 2023

Both can flat out coach

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