Rick Pitino will become the new head coach of Iona next season. Pitino, who currently coaches Panathinaikos in Greece, returns to the collegiate ranks for the first time since Louisville fired him in 2017 after 16 seasons due to an FBI investigation regarding a recruiting scandal.
Pitino is the only coach in NCAA history to take three different schools to the Final Four. He did it with Providence in the 1980s, Kentucky in the 1990s, and Louisville in the 2000s.
Iona’s head coach, Tim Cluess, stepped down this past week due to undisclosed health issues.
And yes, it’s the Iona Gaels from the MAAC and not the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten. Pitino returns to the coaching ranks at a small school in the New York City suburbs.
“I’ve coached Kentucky, Louisville, the Celtics, the Knicks. It wasn’t about being at the mountaintop again. I’m looking to climb the mountain and bring Iona to something special,” Pitino told ESPN.
Iona is no slouch despite a rough 12-17 record this season. Prior to this season, Iona won the MAAC conference tournament to secure four-consecutive trips to March Madness. Since 2012, the Gaels went to the Big Dance six times.
Where Is Iona?
Iona, a tiny Catholic college located in New Rochelle, New York, is part of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Iona’s big rivals are Manhattan College and Fordham University, both located in the Bronx borough of New York City.
The legendary Jim Valvano made a name for himself at Iona in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Valvano went 94-45 in five seasons with Iona, including consecutive trips to March Madness in 1979 and 1980.
“It’s the perfect way for me to end a long coaching career,” added Pitino.
It’s hard to think that Iona will be the last stop on Pitino’s career. If he can win the MAAC every year and pull off a couple of upsets in March Madness, he’ll definitely resurface on the radar of the country’s top programs.
Pitino Back After Greek Exile
Pitino, 67, is the only head coach in NCAA history to take three different teams to the Final Four: Providence, Kentucky, and Louisville.
He’s also the only coach to have won an NCAA college basketball championship with two different teams — Kentucky in 1996 and Louisville in 2013. Louisville had to vacate the 2013 championship title in wake of the recruiting scandal.
Championships: 1996, 2013
NBA Teams: New York Knicks, Boston Celtics
NCAA Teams: BU, Providence, Kentucky, Louisville
Euro Teams: Panathinaikos
After Louisville fired him, Pitino spent the last two seasons with Panathinaikos. He’s also slated to coach the Greek national team, including the Greek Freak, at the 2020 Olympics.
Pitino coached two stints in the NBA. He first appeared with the Knicks in the late 1980s before returning to the NBA with the Boston Celtics in the late 1990s. Pitino quit in the middle of the 2000-01 season after 34 games with the Celtics during an infamous “Larry Bird is not walking through that door!” rant.
Pitino’s son, Richard Pitino, currently coaches the Minnesota Gophers.