Rick Pitino’s Iona season ended at the NCAA Tournament. Is there more important work next?

ALBANY, NY – Rick Pitino, impeccably dressed in a black suit with a plaid tie and white pocket square, returned to the NCAA Tournament stage on Friday in a game that contributed to his comeback from exile. coach as he continued a momentous upset in March.

After his No. 13 seed, Iona Gaels, lost to the University of Connecticut, 87-63, in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Tournament, Pitino shook hands with UConn coach Dan Hurley and his players, then left the field to go to the locker. bedroom.

It remains to be seen if the game was his last as a coach at Iona University, a private Catholic school of about 3,600 students in New Rochelle, NY, which Pitino has called home since 2020.

“I really don’t have an answer,” Pitino said in the post-match press conference. “I have no idea if that’s the case or not. I focused everything on this game, trying to beat Connecticut.

Pitino, 70, has become a staple among men’s college basketball teams looking for a coach. Although he has long been respected as a great on the field, he was considered toxic just a few years ago: he was ousted by Louisville in 2017 amid an FBI investigation in which two assistant coaches under Pitino were accused of embezzling money from college clothing. sponsor, Adidas, to high school recruits.

Pitino has long said he was unaware of the scheme, or any other involving a staff member soliciting prostitutes and strippers for players and rookies, and he was not penalized when the NCAA announced discipline in the case in November.

Since then, Pitino has been linked to top jobs at St. John’s, Georgetown and Texas Tech, and even Providence – which he led to the Final Four in 1987 – if his coach, Ed Cooley, were to leave for a other job.

Other scandal-tinged coaches have also been rehired. Will Wade, a former Louisiana State coach who was at the center of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption, was recently hired at McNeese State, with a deal that included a five-game suspension for start the 2023-24 season. Former Arizona coach Sean Miller, also a high-profile subject of the investigation, resurfaced at Xavier’s last season after Arizona parted ways with him in 2021. Chris Beard, who was fired by Texas in January on a domestic violence charge, was hired to Mississippi after the charge was dropped.

Although Pitino joked that he hadn’t been to St. John’s in 30 years and wouldn’t “even know how to get there,” the University of Queens that competes in the Big East Conference seems to be the most likely destination if he opts to leave Iona. Pitino once had a relationship with St. John’s president Reverend Brian J. Shanley and would not have to move from his home at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck.

He would be the star attraction in games played by St. John’s at Madison Square Garden, where he coached Patrick Ewing and the Knicks in the late 1980s. Last week, St. John’s fired Mike Anderson after four seasons without involvement. at an NCAA tournament.

Ahead of the UConn game, Pitino praised his Iona team, which rode a 14-game winning streak in the tournament. Four starters return next season on a team that won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament to earn an automatic on-court offer from the NCAA.

“I have two or three guys coming off the bench, so it’s really important for me,” Pitino said. “I consider that the No. 1 factor in my life, so it’s going to take a special place for me to consider leaving.”

Whether he stays at Iona or leaves, Pitino won’t be done coaching anytime soon.

“I hope I can coach for another 12 years, but I will take six or seven,” he said on Thursday.

His players, of course, hope he stays.

“The internet is going to talk,” second-year guard Walter Clayton Jr. said when asked about Pitino’s departure prospects. “We just talk about who is going to win games, and that’s it.”

During several interviews, Pitino has hinted that wherever he coaches, he would like to see the facilities improved.

When asked if St. John’s could go back to the heights it reached when it reached the Final Four in 1985 with fellow Big East members Georgetown and Villanova, Pitino said the new rules in sports academics allowing athletes to enter into endorsement deals — widely known as name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals — allowed any program to enjoy a reversal of fortune.

“Any program can be built, but you have to change the culture, you have to change the players, because obviously you lose for a reason, but anywhere can be built,” he said. “And the NIL is the reason. If you have those collectives, then you go out there and you get free agents.

With the emergence of the rules, prompted by state laws across the country, some supporters of sports programs have formed collectives to pool money to offer sponsorship deals to athletes. Officially, universities are not allowed to pay direct salaries to athletes.

nytimes sport

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