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Rick Pitino is a basketball icon: the only coach in college history to lead three different schools to the Final Four, the winner of the 1996 NCAA championship, the owner of a sparkling career record, a bestselling author, and a lock for the College Basketball Hall of Fame. Yet Pitino's journey has not been without life-altering adversity: He's experienced profound personal and professional losses. In 2001, after three losing seasons as coach and president of the Boston Celtics, Pitino resigned, walking away from the $23 million left in his contract. And while recovering from the only breakdown in his extraordinary basketball career, Pitino—who had previously suffered the devastating loss of his infant son, Daniel—endured additional tragedies: His brother-in-law and best friend Billy Minardi, a trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, perished in the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11, less than a year after another brother-in-law had been fatally struck by a taxi. Pitino writes, "From that point on, my life changed forever. Nothing will ever be the same."
This realization gave Pitino a new perspective. With it, the innovative leader felt the freedom to act even more dynamically than he ever had in the past. Returning to college basketball, he has rebuilt and revitalized the storied program at Louisville, guiding the Cardinals to a history-making Final Four appearance in 2005 that stamped him the only coach in history to take three schools that far. And in 2008, he rallied an injury-plagued Louisville team from a disappointing start and led it to the Elite Eight, setting the stage for greater success to come.
The failures and tragedies he recounts make this book unique. More than just a recitation of what works and why, it's about how to succeed after you've failed; how to pick yourself up after being knocked down; and how to reframe yourself and see the world in a new light. This is a comeback story, a manual for overcoming life's difficulties. Pitino has experienced success as an author with his tremendously popular books Success Is a Choice and Lead to Succeed, but in Rebound Rules: The Art of Success 2.0, he's crafted a book that's more deeply personal, more inspiring, more practical, and more powerful than any he's written before.
The Darkness of Doubt
On the eve of my last game as coach of the Boston Celtics, I sat by the pool at my south Florida vacation home on a spectacular January night in 2001 with my friend and assistant, Jim O'Brien. We were drinking a beer and I was telling "Obie" that this was it. I was quitting tomorrow, after we played the Miami Heat. I was done. He tried to talk me out of it, but there was no way. We were besieged by criticism and negativity in Boston, but it was worst inside my head. It was time to walk away and regroup from my first professional failure.
I already had talked to two of my closest advisers: C. M. Newton, my former boss at the University of Kentucky; and Dave Gavitt, who had served as the commissioner of the Big East Conference during my days coaching at Providence. C. M. advised me to ride out the season and see if it turned around. Dave counseled me to leave now if I really wanted to return to college coaching in the spring.
It was with this counsel in mind that I told Obie my plan that night by the pool. When the team flies back to Boston, I told him, I was going to stay in Miami and he would take over as interim head coach. I'm an old-school guy whose response to difficult circumstances has always been to regroup and try harder—but simply trying hard wasn't going to fix this situation. We had won 12 games and lost 21 to that point, and this was our fourth straight season with a losing record. Defeat had beaten me down. "I love this game," I said. "But for the past year and a half, I haven't enjoyed one practice or one game. You're going to be the coach. It's a beginning for you. It's an end for me." Obie looked up at the full moon, looked around at the beautiful surroundings, and smiled. "It's not a bad life, man."
He was right, of course. There are many worse things in life than resigning from a multimillion-dollar job and spending the rest of the winter in a beautiful home and beautiful weather—but the truth is, my life was pretty bad on the inside at that moment. The old adage about money not buying happiness was never truer than right then. I believe if you chase money, you're not necessarily chasing success. Give yourself success, and money will chase after you as if it's your shadow.
I had chased the biggest contract in basketball history to Boston: 10 years, $50 million. I had made the move for the money. I was ready to admit my high-stakes mistake and quit.
It's hard to articulate the disappointment I felt. I had left a dream job at the University of Kentucky after going to three Final Fours, winning the 1996 national championship, and returning a scandal-scarred program to the forefront of college basketball. It had been eight years of good times and great accomplishments. The only thing that could convince me to leave was this chance of a lifetime, to take over the most storied franchise in NBA history. By my game plan, I would take the Celtics from the lowest depths of professional basketball and return it to the glorious heights enjoyed with Auerbach, Russell, Cousy, Havlicek, and Bird—but for the first time as a basketball coach, I hadn't gotten the job done.
There were mitigating factors. Missing out on future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan in the 1997 draft lottery, despite having the worst record the previous year, was just plain bad luck. An owner lockout that shortened the 1998-99 season after we'd made a 21-game improvement the previous year was bad timing. The stabbing of our best player, Paul Pierce, was the worst—he had been jumped in a Boston nightclub by a local rapper's posse and stabbed repeatedly. I was with his mother at his hospital bedside in September 2000, when the doctors told us his attacker missed by a quarter of an inch from dealing Paul a lethal blow. For a while we were simply hoping he'd live, much less play again. Paul made a remarkable comeback that season, but it did not trigger team success.
So as my friend Bill Parcells says, you are your record—and my record in Boston was 102-146. We never made the playoffs. I have never taken losing well, and now it had become my identity: With the Celtics, at least, I was a loser. I was stumbling through the darkness of doubt.
Nobody's professional growth curve is an unbroken upward line. That just doesn't happen, in any career field. Failures will occur. Crises will crop up. Confidence and self-esteem will be challenged, and in such times, people accustomed to success will experience the darkness of doubt, something that can attack you professionally, personally, and spiritually. Every single person will, at one point or another, have this experience. It is darkness. You're afraid—and when fear comes in, you make poor decisions.
I am a positive person by nature, but more by habit. I've worked at it. That outlook has been instrumental to me in motivating young players, rebuilding fallen programs and becoming the only coach in college basketball history to take three different schools to Final Fours—but it doesn't provide a foolproof firewall against insidious doubt. Doubt can spring up from a variety of sources: losing, adversity, financial insecurity, age, illness, injury, family issues, even success. A longtime doctor might be facing a malpractice suit. A lawyer may have made an error that blew a high-profile case. A salesman may lose a big account. I have experienced the darkness of doubt twice professionally. I'll discuss the second time later in this chapter, but the first time already had gripped me as I sat poolside in Miami with Jim O'Brien.
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