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Iona’s hiring of Rick Pitino is a questionable move

Editor’s Note: The original version of this column, which appeared on The Setonian’s website on March 26, 2020, contained some factual or other reporting errors as set forth below:

  • The author stated that Mr. Pitino got into trouble with the NCAA for extortion.  The Setonian has no evidence that Mr. Pitino was “in trouble with the NCAA for . . . extortion. . . .”  Mr. Pitino was the victim of extortion. 
  • The author also referred to “. . .  a criminally inclined coach.”  The Setonian has no knowledge that Mr. Pitino committed a crime, was charged with a crime, or will be charged with a crime.  
  • The author also stated that Mr. Pitino “. . .  literally offered . . . money to Bowen” and stated “ . . . it was found out he paid players . . . .”   The Setonian has no evidence that Mr. Pitino engaged in such actions.
  • Finally, the NCAA has not issued any ruling that would prohibit any school from hiring Mr. Pitino.

The Setonian deeply regrets any errors and has edited them out of the column below.

Rick Pitino is back.

Thirty-two seasons. A 770-271 record. Seven Final Four appearances. Two national championships.

Pitino has made his mark on college basketball in his five decades on the sidelines. He worked his way up from small schools like Hawaii and Boston University to the pinnacle of the blue blood programs such as Kentucky and Louisville. Simply put, Pitino is one of the greatest coaches of all time.

Photo via NY Post

But now, after an off the court fall from grace and absence from college basketball since 2017, Pitino now finds himself back in the game at mid-major Iona College. His former protégé, Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard, was hired at Iona for his first-ever head coaching job, and now Pitino finds himself there looking for redemption. 

Of course, this is great for Iona on the court, but given the way Pitino left Louisville it is a questionable decision at best. 

After multiple NCAA investigations and allegations that those associated with the Louisville program paid players, Pitino was fired by the University and his college coaching career appeared to come to an abrupt end. Despite getting back into the game in Europe with Greek team Panathinaikos, and even winning a Greek Cup Championship with the organization, no one expected a return to the college game for the 67-year-old coach.

Although Pitino will likely lead Iona to immense success in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, as he has done with every program he has been a part of, is it really worth the risk and potential damage to the college’s reputation?

With Iona granting Pitino a return, it has set the precedent that winning is the only thing that matters. Just make sure you win and no one will have a problem.

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Why did Iona do this? Didn’t they look at Pitino’s inglourious exit from Louisville? Even if there is no evidence linking Pitino directly to some of the more troubling incidents there he was in charge and had to know. Ever hear of lack of institutional control?

Brian Bowen, a five-star recruit who committed to Louisville and was later found out to have taken money to commit to the university, in effect had his college career ruined because his family accepted benefits from the Cardinals.And what about Pitino’s players getting escorts? Again, there is no direct evidence that Pitino ordered this and he denied that he knew about it, but he was still suspended five games. 

When entering college, families are sending the player off to be mentored by a role model while getting to play the game they love and earning a degree at the same time. It's seen as the transition from childhood to adulthood, maturing the man and creating a hard-working mentality they will carry for the rest of their life. Instead, Iona is taking a chance on a Hall of Fame coach with a checkered past. What kind of message does that send? That winning trumps all else.

Robert Fallo can be reached at Find him on Twitter @Robert_Fallo.


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