UPDATE (4:33 p.m.): It’s official.
Like Napoleon returning from exile on Elba to attempt to form an army and reclaim what he once controlled, Rick Pitino is coming back to college basketball. He will leave his job coaching Panathinaikos, a professional team in the Greek Basket League, in order to become head coach of the Iona Gaels.
After announcing yesterday that Tim Cluess would step down from his position following a decade of success, Adam Zagoria reported that Iona was focusing on Pitino and Bryant Bulldogs coach Jared Grasso.
Initially, Grasso seemed like the odds-on favorite to become the Iona coach, thanks to his time spent as an assistant there under Cluess and simply that names like Pitino’s pop up in tons of coaching searches time and again.
Yet, Iona managed to work out a deal with Pitino that will bring the Hall of Fame coach stateside once more.
Pitino expressed his excitement to Jon Rothstein about the opportunity to end his career back in New York.
Rick Pitino on Iona: "I'm incredibly excited. I started my journey in basketball in Manhattan. I'm now able to end my journey in New Rochelle. I've admired the stellar job that Tim Cluess has done. I'm going to try and carry that on and elevate it to prominence."— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 14, 2020
Pitino, a native New Yorker, is plenty familiar with basketball in the northeast. Throughout his five decades of coaching, he has spent time at Boston University, Providence, and even the New York Knicks before landing at Kentucky, where he won his only non-vacated national title.
Of course, Pitino’s most recent success came as head coach of the Louisville Cardinals, where he led the team for 16 years before being fired in 2017 during the course of an FBI probe into payments from UofL coaches to potential recruits.
Pitino encountered scandal more than once at Louisville. In 2010, Karen Sypher was convicted of extorting the coach in an effort to keep quiet their “2003 sexual encounter...at a table inside an Italian restaurant closed for the night.”
Years later, Pitino found himself wrapped up in another shocking scandal, as the NCAA vacated the school’s wins from 2010-14 (including its 2013 national championship) as punishment for then-Director of Basketball Operations Andre McGee’s violations, detailed below:
“The operations director arranged adult entertainment and/or sex acts for 15 prospects, three enrolled student-athletes, a friend visiting with one of the prospects and two nonscholastic coaches,” the NCAA states. “At least seven, and perhaps as many as 10, of the 15 prospects were under the age of 18 at the time.”
The NCAA ultimately “faulted...Rick Pitino for violating rules on his oversight responsibilities.”