Rick Pitino Ponders Future After Iona’s First-Round Loss
Return from Coaching Exile
Immaculately dressed in a black suit with a checkered tie and a white pocket square, Rick Pitino returned to the N.C.A.A. tournament stage on Friday in a game that helped further his comeback from coaching exile as he chased a memorable March upset.
Iona Loses to UConn
After his No. 13-seeded Iona Gaels lost to the University of Connecticut, 87-63, in the first round of the men’s N.C.A.A. tournament, Pitino shook hands with UConn Coach Dan Hurley and his players and then walked off the court to the locker room.
It remains to be seen whether the game was his last one as the coach at Iona University, a private Catholic school of about 3,600 students in New Rochelle, N.Y., that Pitino has called home since 2020. “I really don’t have an answer to it,” Pitino said in the postgame news conference.
Pitino, at 70, has become a red-hot commodity among men’s college basketball teams searching for a coach. Although he has long been respected as a great on the court, he was considered toxic just a few years ago.
He was ousted by Louisville in 2017 amid an F.B.I. investigation in which two assistant coaches under Pitino were accused of funneling money from the university’s apparel sponsor, Adidas, to high school recruits. Pitino has long said that he did not know about the scheme, or another involving a staff member soliciting prostitutes and strippers for players and recruits.
Odds of Returning
Since then, Pitino has been linked to high-profile jobs at St. John’s, Georgetown, and Texas Tech even Providence.
Other “Tainted” Coach Hires
Former Arizona Coach Sean Miller, also a high-profile subject of the investigation, resurfaced at Xavier last season after Arizona parted ways with him in 2021. Chris Beard, fired by Texas in January in the wake of a domestic violence charge, was hired at Mississippi after the charge was dropped.
St. John’s Possibilities
Though Pitino has joked that he hasn’t been to St. John’s in 30 years and would not “even know how to get there,” the university in Queens that plays in the Big East Conference appears to be the most likely destination if he opts to leave Iona.
During the course of several interviews, Pitino hinted that wherever he coaches, he would like to see the facilities improved.
Changes in NCAA
Asked if St. John’s could climb back to the heights it achieved when it reached the Final Four in 1985 along with fellow Big East members Georgetown and Villanova, Pitino said the new rules in college sports allowing for athletes to make endorsement deals allowed for any program to enjoy a reversal of fortune.
Pitino’s Love for Coaching
After Louisville fired Pitino in late 2017, he was hired by the Greek professional team Panathinaikos in December 2018 before he returned to the United States to coach at Iona beginning in 2020. “The two years I was out of coaching was the most miserable two years of my life because I missed it so much,” he said Thursday.
Now, Pitino can weigh more options even as he remains the coach at Iona for now. “They gave me everything they could give me,” he said. “So Iona’s a special, special place.”