Rick Pitino On WFAN: Iona Is 'Definitely' Last Stop


Three years ago, Rick Pitino reached what he called the lowest point of his over 40-year coaching career. 

Pitino, then-Louisville's basketball coach, was locked out of the office he held for roughly 16 seasons as a result of a pay for play scandal involving Louisville. He was later ousted from his position and hadn't coached at the collegiate level since his departure. The newly named Iona Gaels head coach told WFAN's Marc Malusis and Maggie Gray that he felt "blackballed" from the NCAA. 

"It was strange because I've sort of been blackballed out of the business for two and a half years," Pitino said. "Then when the trial came about, I was exonerated as one by one everybody got on the stand — the recruit's dad, the Adidas representatives — I settled the lawsuit with Adidas and it all came together for me. I had to wait two and a half years for the trial to finally get exonerated and colleges in the last three weeks started calling me. But I had something special with Iona..." 

On Saturday, Iona College named Pitino as the successor to former head coach Tim Cluess, who stepped down from his position due to health reasons. Pitino had spent the last year in Greece, coaching in the EuroLeague. He'd always intended an eventual return to the collegiate ranks even if it meant a gig at a non-power-five program.

He preferred it that way, saying Iona "has everything I wanted to end my career with."

"There were only really three jobs I was interested in since I've been back," Pitino said. "One was when (Providence head coach) Ed Cooley was being rumored to go to Michigan. I would've had an opportunity to go back to Providence. Then Holy Cross, there was an interest in me there and that didn't pan out and now Iona.

"I was looking for that type of situation," Pitino added. "I wasn't looking to be back at a power-five conference again. I was looking for a small campus that I can be a part of the community, that I can build it into something really, really special ... Iona fits that need."

In 2018, Pitino believed his coaching career was finished. He released a book which highlighted his struggle to land another job following the pay for play scandal of 2017, where he allegedly paid a recruit to play at Louisville, and a 2015 sex scandal, where one of Pitino's former players, Andre McGee, allegedly paid escorts to have sex with Cardinals players.

Pitino calls his handling of the incidents one of his greatest regrets. 

"What I learned mostly and I didn't do a good job of — excuses I always believe are a sign of weakness," Pitino said. "I made excuses. I should've just said, 'I hired him. I take full responsibility. The axe has to fall on me which it did and move on.' I just wish I would've just handled it that way. Looking back on it now, I deserved to be fired by Louisville. Was I innocent of any wrongdoing? Yes I was, but I was the leader and I deserved to be fired. I need to move on and that's what I probably have learned the most."

Jan 23, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino celebrates a victory against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at McCamish Pavilion. Louisville defeated Georgia Tech 75-71. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY SportsUSA TODAY Sports

Iona's deal with Pitino will run over the next five seasons. Pitino wasn't interested in another stint in the NBA, where he coached the Knicks and Celtics, and doesn't intend to use Iona to leap into another gig. He's with the Gaels for the long run. 

"I don't have a very large contract with Iona," Pitino said. "I think it can be put on one page. But I can tell you right now; the only school that can afford me with my buyout is Fort Knox University. I don't think with the type of buyout that I have and I'm even too embarrassed to tell you the number it's so scary — Iona is definitely my last stop. I almost laugh at the buyout it's so comical.

"I'm at my best developing young athletes," Pitino said. "That's where I belong. I'm super excited about being at Iona. It will be my last stop and I hope we make it a glorious run." 

Click the audio player above to listen to Rick Pitino's interview with Marc Malusis and Maggie Gray in its entirety