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Rick Pitino returns to college basketball to coach at Iona

It’s Pitino’s first college job since Louisville fired him in 2017 in a pay-for-play scandal.
FILE - In this Feb. 21, 2018, file photo, former Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino appears during a news conference in New York. Hall of Famer Pitino was named basketball coach at Iona College on Saturday, March 14, 2020. Pitino coached at Louisville from 2001-17 before being fired in a pay-for-play scandal and had been coaching in Greece. He replaces Tim Cluess, who resigned Friday after 10 years and six NCAA Tournament appearances due to health concerns. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) [SETH WENIG | AP]

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Hall of Famer Rick Pitino is returning to coach college basketball, three years after being fired at Louisville in a pay-for-play scandal.

Pitino was named the men’s coach at Iona on Saturday. He replaces Tim Cluess, who resigned Friday after 10 years and six NCAA Tournament appearances due to health concerns.

“My passion in basketball started in New York and will end there at Iona College,” Pitino said in a statement released by the school. “Tim Cluess has done a spectacular job creating success and a winning spirit. At Iona, I will work with the same passion, hunger and drive that I’ve had for over 40 years.”

Pitino, 67, had been coaching professionally in Greece. He has a 770-271 overall record in college and became the first coach to take three schools to the Final Four. He won national championships at Louisville (2013) and Kentucky (1996). The Louisville championship was later vacated by the NCAA over allegations that a basketball staff member hired escorts to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Iona president Seamus Carey said in a statement, “After a thorough interview process, we are confident that Rick’s experience and commitment to Iona and our community make him the right person to continue to build on Tim Cluess’ success.”

Pitino coached at Louisville from 2001 to October 2017, when he was fired following an FBI investigation into college basketball. No one from the Cardinals was arrested, but the school was linked to the investigation through allegations that Adidas paid $100,000 to the family of five-star prospect Brian Bowen to steer him to Louisville. Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were placed on unpaid administrative leave and then fired for cause.

Pitino wasn’t named in the federal complaint and denied any wrongdoing. Last year he settled a $38.7 million lawsuit he had filed against the school, accusing it of breaching its contract by firing him for cause. As part of the settlement, his personnel file changed his termination to a resignation. He received no money, though he did get what the school said was compensation and wages he was due.

Pitino also sued Adidas, contending that the apparel company “outrageously conspired” to funnel money to Bowen’s family without his knowledge and made it appear he was aware of its practices. That suit also was settled; terms were not released.

Bowen was cleared by the FBI and never played a college game.

The scandal that cost Louisville its NCAA championship came during Pitino’s tenure in 2015, when an escort said that former basketball staff member Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits. Pitino said he was unaware of those activities. Also as part of Louisville’s NCAA sanctions, it had to vacate 123 victories and its 2012 Final Four appearance.

Pitino released a memoir of his career in 2018, Pitino: My Story.

He told the Associated Press in September 2018 while promoting the book that he doubted he would ever get a chance to coach college basketball again.

“I think my time has passed, I really do,” Pitino said. “I’m young. I’m physically very young and mentally very young. I just think there are a lot of young reporters out there that won’t let it go. The moment I’m hired, ‘Why didn’t school X look at this’?”

Pitino also spent several seasons coaching in the NBA with the Knicks and Celtics. He was hired in December 2018 by Panathinaikos in Greece, winning a Greek Cup and the Greek Basket League championship.

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