Rick Pitino hired at St. John’s: Hall of Fame coach returning to Big East after three seasons leading Iona

Rick Pitino hired at St. John’s: Hall of Fame coach returning to Big East after three seasons leading Iona

Rick Pitino has accepted the job to be the next coach at St. John’s, with the Hall of Fame coach set for a return to big-time college basketball, sources told CBS Sports. Ten years removed from Louisville’s final season in the basketball-frenzied conference, and 37 years after leaving Providence, Pitino is headed back to the Big East. The Iona coach met with St. John’s leadership Sunday and agreed to terms to become the next coach of the Red Storm on Monday afternoon, sources said.

St. John’s is planning a press conference for Madison Square Garden for noon ET Tuesday, sources added. Pitino’s six-year deal is in the neighborhood of $20 million, one source said. 

“Coach Pitino is one of the most brilliant minds in the history of the game and has won at the highest levels everywhere he has coached,” said St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg in a statement. “There is no doubt in my mind he will restore a championship-level program and culture for St. John’s Basketball.”

“I am excited that this seasoned coaching veteran—who has won at the highest levels and is as passionate as ever— is committed to leading our student-athletes and our program to national prominence,” added St. John’s president Rev. Brian J. Shanley. “Rick knows BIG EAST basketball and is determined to take and keep the Red Storm program where we know it belongs.”

The 70-year-old Pitino went 64-22 the past three seasons at Iona, twice taking the Gaels to the NCAA Tournament and winning the regular-season MAAC title the past two seasons. 

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart to @SeamusCarey13, President of Iona. Thank you to @mglovs23, the AD and to all those people who touched our lives,” Pitino tweeted on Monday

“Follow up, I’m not sad it ended,” Pitino added. “I’m so grateful it happened. To my players, the last three years. All I can say is you know how much I love you”

In February, Pitino told CBS Sports, “If I wanted to leave, it would be a job that I thought could get to a Final Four. It would be a great place where I want to live, but I don’t see it happening. I don’t see it happening. I’m really tied into these kids.”

Subsequent to that interview, Iona went on to stroll through the rest of the regular season and win the MAAC’s regular season and postseason titles. 

“The only thing I don’t like about the whole situation, I hate being in a one-bid league,” Pitino said in February. 

The Big East, which has three teams still playing in the NCAA Tournament, ranked as the third-best conference in the country this season, per KenPom.com. In adding Pitino, the league just got bigger and better. 

St. John’s president Rev. Brian Shanley made sure to provide a financial package (including a salary pool for assistants) that was good enough to woo Pitino away from the school that brought him back to college basketball after three-plus years of exile. Pitino was cleared last November of any culpability in Louisville’s IRP case tied to fraud and bribery in college basketball recruiting, a saga that dated back to 2017 with the FBI’s oft-criticized investigation into shady recruiting practices. Pitino was fired in 2017 because of the investigation and a backlog of scandals under his watch at Louisville.

“I was totally exonerated because I was innocent,” Pitino said on Friday following Iona’s loss to Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament. “For five years they put me in the outhouse because they (the NCAA) couldn’t get their stuff together.”

With Georgetown pursuing and eventually landing Ed Cooley, it eliminated the Hoyas from Pitino’s equation while also keeping Cooley’s situation at Providence murky until late Monday morning. That enabled St. John’s to successfully make its pitch and push in recent days to secure Pitino — someone who is considered among the brightest tacticians in college hoops history. The Johnnies need him; the program last won an NCAA Tournament game in 2000, the same year it last made the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. 

Pitino’s unofficial career record in college basketball is 834-293 (.740), but 123 wins have been vacated from his time at Louisville. According to the NCAA, Pitino is 711-290 (.710). He’s coached Providence, Kentucky and Louisville to the Final Four, and is the only basketball coach to ever win a national championship at two programs (UK and U of L).

St. John’s will be the fifth school Pitino’s ran a program at, joining Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville. It will be his 10th head-coaching tenure overall; Pitino also previously coached the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Panathinaikos (Greece) and the Puerto Rican and Greek national teams.

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