Rick Pitino leaving Iona to become head coach at St. John's

Rick Pitino is back in the big leagues.

The Hall of Fame coach accepted the head coaching job at St. John’s on Monday, agreeing to a reported six-year deal. Pitino, 70, spent the last three seasons at Iona in his return to college basketball following a tumultuous exit at Louisville in 2017. And now he is set to be a head coach in the Big East once again.

Pitino will be formally introduced as the new St. John's head coach with a press conference at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

"One of my great coaching memories was having the distinct privilege of coaching against Lou Carnesecca and St. John's, a Hall of Fame coach and historic program that I have always respected," Pitino said. "It is surreal to now have this opportunity to bring St John's back to prominence."

At St. John’s, Pitino replaces Mike Anderson, who was fired after four seasons. Anderson had a 68-56 overall record that included just a 30-46 mark in Big East play and no trips to the NCAA tournament.

St. John’s has been to the NCAA tournament just once in the past eight seasons and hasn’t won a game in the tournament since 2000. Pitino has brought five different schools to the NCAA tournament, including two trips in his three seasons at Iona. Pitino had a 64-22 record in three seasons with the Gaels and won both the MAAC regular season and tournament title this year and in 2021.

"We are thrilled to announce Hall of Fame coach and New York native Rick Pitino will lead our men's basketball program into the next chapter of its long and storied history," St. John's athletic director Mike Cragg said. "Coach Pitino is one of the most brilliant minds in the history of the game and has won at the highest levels everywhere he has coached. There is no doubt in my mind he will restore a championship-level program and culture for St. John's Basketball."

Iona head coach Rick Pitino works the bench in the first half of a first-round college basketball game against Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 17, 2023, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Iona head coach Rick Pitino works the bench in the first half of a first-round college basketball game against Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 17, 2023, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Pitino brought Boston University to the NCAA tournament and Providence to the Final Four early in his career and also was the head coach of the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, but he is most known for his time at Kentucky and Louisville.

At Kentucky, Pitino won the national championship in 1996, was the national runner-up in 1997 and also reached the Final Four and two Elite Eights. He won another national title in 2013, this time at Louisville, where he spent 16 seasons as head coach. In addition to the championship, Pitino brought Louisville to two Final Fours and three Elite Eights.

But Pitino’s time at Louisville ended in scandal amid the federal investigation into college basketball as a player’s family was paid $100,000 to attend UL. Pitino has long maintained his innocence and the NCAA eventually exonerated him in the case, saying there was “insufficient information to conclude that [Pitino] knew or should have known” that an Adidas employee “was going to pay $100,000 to the father” of the recruit in question.

That scandal jettisoned Pitino out of the college basketball world. He ended up coaching in Greece until he resurfaced at Iona in 2020. Now, following a successful three-year stint with the Gaels, he is back in charge of a high major program.

Following Iona’s first-round NCAA tournament loss to UConn, Pitino was asked about the reports connecting him to the St. John’s opening. He said he was too focused on preparing for the game before adding that he hadn’t been on the SJU campus since 1987 when he was coaching at Providence opposite of Carnesecca.

"I really haven't put any thought into it at all. I think when you start thinking ahead, you always fail, and we put a lot of effort into this game. I don't know if it's right for me, another job. I don't know that. I know you're all alluding to St. John's, but I've never seen St. John's. I don't remember too much about it to tell you the truth. You don't buy houses without looking at the garage, the upstairs and kitchen. You don't just buy a house, right?" Pitino said.

After a reported visit with St. John's officials on Sunday, Pitino was ready to make the move and take the reins for the Red Storm.