Rick Pitino is back in college basketball and he will make his return at Iona College, the school announced Saturday.
After The Post reported on Friday that Pitino was a candidate for the position in the wake of Tim Cluess stepping down as coach due to health concerns. and “wants back [into college basketball] pretty bad,” he agreed on Saturday afternoon to coach the MAAC school in a stunning turn of events.
The 67-year-old Pitino has been coaching in Greece since being fired by Louisville as part of a massive college basketball bribery scheme. The one-time Knicks coach who grew up on Long Island has close ties to multiple influential voices at Iona, including top booster Robert LaPenta, who formerly partnered with Pitino in ownership of racehorses. New Iona president Seamus Carey used to work at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., and is close with Rick Avare, Pitino’s agent and business manager.
Pitino’s accomplishments at the collegiate level are well-known — a 621-271 record over 30 seasons with Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville, with a national title in 1996 with Kentucky and a vacated title in 2013 with Louisville.
Contacted by The Post before the news broke, Pitino said: “I’m sorry I cannot comment on any college jobs.” That was very different from last year, when he said he was interested in the vacant St. John’s job. He said he didn’t think it would happen and would only take the position if he were granted an apology and cleared publicly by the Southern District of New York.
As Louisville’s coach, Pitino was part of multiple scandals. An escort sex scandal involving players and recruits forced Louisville to vacate the 2013 national championship. Pitino then was investigated and eventually fired for his role in a pay-for-play scheme involving a recruit. Pitino has staunchly maintained his innocence in both scenarios and believed the SDNY dragged him through the mud and ruined his reputation by including his name in a complaint.
The NCAA still hasn’t ruled on Pitino and the latest Louisville scandal that led to his dismissal, so it’s uncertain if he would face any discipline upon returning to the sport.