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Pitino's advice to Gophers' Fleck: It gets better

Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Richard Pitino looks on during the first half of the championship game of the the Barclays Classic against the Alabama Crimson Tide Nov. 25 at Barclays Center. Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — In the days leading to Wednesday's game between No. 12 Minnesota and No. 10 Miami at Williams Arena, Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck gave men's basketball coach Richard Pitino a yellow University of Minnesota pullover, the type Fleck often wore on the sidelines in his first season at the U.

"Only he would wear this," Pitino joked as he put it on Tuesday.

The gift was the latest sign in the budding friendship between Pitino, 35, and Fleck, 37.

Fleck's first season as football coach ended unceremoniously with a 5-7 record (2-7 Big Ten). Pitino has chatted with him about overcoming early struggles.

Two seasons ago, Pitino's job was in question after an 8-23 season.

"It's a nice reminder to him," Pitino said of their talks. "The narrative about me right now was not the narrative two years ago. So it can change. He knows that, but it's always nice to hear from someone like me who has been through it before."

Pitino watched some football games this season and heard the criticism about Fleck's team falling from the 9-4 record that Tracy Claeys posted last season.

"He's building," Pitino said. "It takes players and recruiting. It's not easy. People think it's easy to take over a situation when a coach gets fired. But you immediately lose out on a recruiting class, you're immediately coaching a bunch of players that you did not recruit. As much as P.J. and his staff have done a great job of building their culture, in that locker room it's different.

"Every kid on my team right now that's playing for me (saw) the role that we envisioned for them. It was laid out in their house and at their school. They embraced it and understood it. It just takes time. It's an awful pill to swallow, but it just takes time. ... With P.J., there's zero doubt in my mind that he's going to get it done."

Pitino said he learned a lot during the 2015-16 season when his basketball team won just two Big Ten games.

"Truthfully, it was horrible, and I never want to go through it again," Pitino said. "But I absolutely think it was good for me as a young head coach. It's almost like what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."