Despite consistent speculation about John Calipari coaching the New York Knicks, Rick Pitino doesn’t see him leaving Kentucky.
Rick Pitino is back in the spotlight after becoming head coach of Iona College in New Rochelle, NY. Should New York move on from interim head coach Mike Miller after the season, there are a few high-profile guys out there.
However, Pitino doesn’t think Kentucky’s John Calipari is a realistic option for the Knicks. In a Q&A with Steve Serby of the New York Post, Pitino threw cold water on the possibility of Calipari going back to the pros.
“I really don’t. I think when you coach at Kentucky, you have the premier job in college basketball — in terms of he can recruit any player he wants, he has unbelievable facilities, he’s gonna win his 30 games every year, and he’s got the best job in all of basketball. So I’m not sure why he would ever want to have a job that’s not the best job in all of basketball. He’s smarter than me when it comes to that,” Pitino said.
If anyone understands what it’s like to coach in Kentucky, it’s Pitino. The head coach has won titles with the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals during his Hall of Fame career.
Pitino is just echoing the same sentiment of Julius Randle and Kevin Knox—two of Cal’s former players at Kentucky. Randle and Knox both feel that Calipari is in the perfect situation in Lexington. There’s little reason to believe he’s leaving Kentucky for any job, let alone the Knicks, anytime soon.
In terms of other potential head coaches, Pitino feels a few of the big names on the market would fit well with the Knicks. Mark Jackson, Tom Thibodeau, and Jeff Van Gundy are all popular names on the market.
“I think all three would be a fit,” Pitino said. “They need discipline, structure, obviously they need players. … They need to go out in free agency and if you said to somebody, ‘Hey, Mark Jackson’s the head coach,’ or ‘Van Gundy’s the head coach,’ I think free agents would want to play for them.”
Perhaps Pitino is right about these three coaches transforming the Knicks into a more attractive free-agent destination. However, history would suggest that’s a bad way to go about hiring a head coach.
Part of the reason why the Knicks hired David Fizdale was because of his relationships with star players like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Obviously, those two guys weren’t going to come to New York, but the belief was that superstar guys would want to play for Fizdale.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signed with the Brooklyn Nets while Kawhi Leonard went back out west to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Knicks didn’t even have meetings with the biggest names on the market.
Attracting free agents should never be part of the calculus when choosing a head coach.
Whether it’s Miller, Van Gundy, Calipari, Thibodeau, Jackson, or anyone else, the Knicks must hire a coach who can develop a winning culture that’s sustainable.