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April 7, 2013Former Michigan athletic director Bill Martin has been saying it for years, and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has admitted it publically more than once - he did, indeed, accept the Michigan job before reneging on his commitment in 2001, leading to the hiring of Tommy Amaker.
The story came up again Sunday, of course, because Pitino's Cardinals are set to face Michigan Monday night in the national championship game.
"It was kind of a funny story because I agreed to be the Michigan coach," Pitino recalled. "I lived in Boston - we visited Las Vegas. I love Las Vegas, but my wife doesn't like Las Vegas. We had young children at the time and she said, 'Look, if we were all 'let's go,' we have young kids. I just don't want to go out west. I don't want to go to a different time zone. I want to stay near our family.'
"So I took the Michigan job. That morning I agreed, and I forget what the name was - I think it was 'Outright' - which when I called the Michigan A.D. [Bill Martin], he didn't want me to use my real name to get through to him. My wife came up and I'm on the third floor, putting together all the things together with the Michigan contract.
"She had a book. There was an expression in the book that read, 'I'd rather live one day as a lion than a thousand as a lamb.' My wife doesn't swear. She didn't want to go to Michigan because I've never visited there, I didn't know anybody there. She wanted to go back to Kentucky where she saw the family so happy for eight years. I said to her, 'you don't understand. The Kentucky coach can't coach at Louisville. You're just not getting it.' She said, 'It's one game every year, and every other year you have to visit. What's the big deal?'"
"I said, 'It's a big deal. We don't want to do that. We'll be miserable. You don't want to put yourself in that situation.' She said, 'You know what, that line you're always using, I'd rather live one day as a lion than a thousand as a lamb. You're an F‑ing Lamb!' Then she walked downstairs. I said, 'Think about it. There's half a million Kentucky fans in our town. It's not like living in Lexington where if you wear red, you get shot. It doesn't work that way.' She said, 'I don't care. Your family is going to be happy.'"
So Pitino called Martin back at noon during Martin's scheduled paddleball game to let him know, getting his voicemail.
"[That's when] he can never be disturbed unless it's a matter of life and death, and his assistant said, 'Is it a matter of life and death?'" Pitino recalled. "I said, 'No, it's really, really important.' It's a matter of life and death, because I changed my mind.
"So now I'm leaving this long voice mail. I rambled on saying it's one of the greatest jobs in the world, but I have to go back home where my family grew up, my children grew up. I gave a long‑winded story. It was never until the NIT when I got a chance to speak to him in person about it. I went to Louisville. It was the right move not necessarily for me, but it was the right move for my family."
Michigan went six years with Tommy Amaker before hiring Beilein, a man for whom Pitino has great respect.
"It's great," he said of U-M's success under the sixth-year coach. "Michigan is an unbelievable school - a great academic institution with great tradition. I happen to have a little contact with them. To be a Michigan man, it means a lot to them. They could have no greater leader than John Beilein. He's what college basketball is all about."