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What Rick Pitino is saying after avoiding NCAA punishment in Louisville recruiting scandal

Iona coach Rick Pitino coaches from the sideline during the Gaels' 79-61 win over Quinnipiac on Mar. 5, 2022.
Iona coach Rick Pitino coaches from the sideline during the Gaels' 79-61 win over Quinnipiac on Mar. 5, 2022.

Rick Pitino avoided punishment Thursday when the NCAA finally ruled on the 2017 pay-for-play scandal that was part of an FBI investigation into improper recruiting, which eventually cost Pitino his job at Louisville.

Now about to start his third season at Iona College, Pitino did little to celebrate his exoneration. After five years, he said he had moved on -- first to Greece, now to Iona.

"Do I feel vindicated? It's not that important anymore," Pitino said during a call with reporters Thursday. "It's been five years."

Pitino, who has never been one to shy away from criticizing the NCAA, has maintained his innocence during the ongoing investigation. He's also been no stranger to controversy throughout his coaching career.

From 2020:Men's basketball: Rick Pitino charged with NCAA violation, could face punishment

2022 Iona basketball:Rick Pitino: Optimistic for this year's Iona team, but leaves door open for future exit?

His Louisville teams were forced to vacate 123 wins, including the 2013 National Championship, following a sex escort scandal with potential recruits. Then, based on the 2017 investigation, the NCAA charged Pitino with a Level II violation in 2020, citing him for "failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance" during his tenure at the University of Louisville.

The violation, which was levied shortly after he was hired to replace Tim Cluess at Iona, could've led to Pitino serving some type of punishment during his tenure with the Gaels. Thursday's ruling ensured that won't be the case.

"I'm certainly not going to knock the NCAA," Pitino said. "I'd be knocking myself."

Iona's coach Rick Pitino instructs Iona's Nelly Junior Joseph during the quarterfinal game of the MAAC Tournament between Iona and Rider played at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Wednesday, March 9, 2022.
Iona's coach Rick Pitino instructs Iona's Nelly Junior Joseph during the quarterfinal game of the MAAC Tournament between Iona and Rider played at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Wednesday, March 9, 2022.

Louisville was hit with a $5,000 fine and minor recruiting restrictions and, most crucially, will face no postseason ban. Two former assistant coaches will have limitations imposed for two years on their future recruiting. Pitino and his successor at Louisville, Chris Mack, skirted punishment altogether.

Pitino praised the Independent Accountability Resolution Process, which ruled that Pitino had no evidence of payment schemes. The IARP found that he "promoted an atmosphere of compliance" while at Louisville.

"They took a great job away from me," Pitino said. "But what was taken away was given back to me with Greece. What was taken away from me was given back with Iona."

After his firing at Louisville, Pitino coached two seasons with the Greek professional team, Panathinaikos, where he won two league titles. He later became the national team's head coach and finally returned to Division I basketball with Iona in 2020.

The 70-year old coach recently hinted that Iona may not be his final stop, which he had suggested many times previously. However, Pitino rejected the notion that Thursday's decision would alter what he envisions for his future.

"It really has nothing to do with it," Pitino said. "I enjoy where I live. I'm part of the greatest city, the greatest state in the United States. … I love where I live. I love the players I'm coaching. The players are really what it's all about."

Pitino is 37-14 and has qualified for one NCAA Tournament (2021) in his two seasons at Iona. The Gaels, who were picked to win the MAAC by the coaches, open their season at home against Penn on Monday night.

Josh Thomson is the Sports Editor for The Journal News, Poughkeepsie Journal and Middletown Times Herald-Record. He can be reached by e-mail at jthomson@lohud.com, on Twitter at @lohudinsider, and on Instagram at @lohudinsider.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Rick Pitino: No NCAA penalty for Iona basketball coach in Louisville case