Rick Pitino will return to college basketball next season. Sources told Yahoo Sports on Saturday that Pitino has agreed to a deal to become the next coach at Iona College.
On Saturday, sources said that Pitino’s return evolved from a possibility to an expectation. The deal escalated quickly, according to a source, and it was completed Saturday afternoon.
Pitino flew back to Miami from Greece in the past 24 hours, according to sources. He’s currently coaching Panathinaikos B.C., which he led to the Greek Cup last season. Pitino returned home because the season has been suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The hire would bring one of the sport’s most iconic and controversial coaches back to the sport. Pitino, 67, has been a college head coach for 32 seasons and won two national titles as a head coach.
Pitino has a career record of 770-271 as a college head coach over stops at Boston University, Providence College, Kentucky and Louisville. He also was the head coach of the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics. One of Pitino's national titles has been vacated, as the 2013 Louisville championship was taken away by the NCAA committee on infractions in the wake of a scandal where the NCAA found Louisville staff members used strippers to help lure recruits. Pitino denied knowledge of this happening.
Pitino was fired from Louisville in 2017 in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the federal investigation, where the father of a recruit later testified in federal court that he was paid cash by a Louisville assistant coach. When the NCAA penalties were announced from the scandal, Pitino was given a five-game suspension in ACC play by the NCAA for the 2017-18 season. (Pitino would not have to serve those games at Iona.) Considering the history of violations in his program and the prospect of the NCAA charging him with head coach control in relation to the federal scandal, it will be interesting to see the degree of diligence Iona did prior to hiring Pitino.
The hiring comes prior to Louisville receiving a notice of allegations stemming from the federal basketball scandal. The possibility looms of Pitino receiving punishment from the NCAA because of the actions in his program from the recruitment of Brian Bowen. Louisville was on probation from a scandal involving strippers and recruits when the latest allegations of cheating arose.
There’s plenty attractive about the Iona job for Pitino. He has a residence in New York City, which is about a half-hour away, and one of his sons, Ryan, lives about 10 minutes from campus. He’s also a member at Winged Foot Country Club, which is nearby.
Iona plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and has a strong basketball history. The Gaels have reached 14 NCAA tournaments in their history, including a streak of four in a row that would have been snapped before this season was canceled and the NCAA tournament called off. Former star Jeff Ruland is regarded as the best player in school history, and he also had a successful stint as the head coach.
Pitino would replace Tim Cluess, who resigned this week for health reasons after leading Iona to six NCAA tournaments and a record of 211-125 in his six seasons.
Iona is located in New Rochelle, New York, which is one of the hotbeds of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, and sensitivities around that will be considered with the handling of a news conference.
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