Iona Hires Rick Pitino As Head Coach

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Rick Pitino is coming home to New York to coach the Iona Gaels.

Iona announced Saturday that it has hired the Hall of Fame coach to replace Tim Cluess, who stepped down Friday due to health reasons.

"My passion in basketball started in New York and will end there at Iona College," Pitino, a Long Island native, said in a news release. "Tim Cluess has done a spectacular job creating success and a winning spirit. I wish Tim a speedy recovery and Iona will always cherish his accomplishments. At Iona, I will work with the same passion, hunger and drive that I've had for over forty years. 

"There is a real professionalism in how things are run here and this is a very tight, strong community. The priority in New Rochelle right now is helping students continue their education online in light of the coronavirus and I very much look forward to the day when the community is back on campus and to get to work on further elevating this strong program."

Rick Pitino coaches Louisville in the 2017 NCAA tournament.Thomas Joseph/USA TODAY Images

Pitino, 67, has 32 years of head coaching experience in the college ranks and led Kentucky and Louisville to national championships. He was also the head coach at Boston University and Providence. He was the first coach to lead three different programs -- Providence, Kentucky and Louisville -- to the Final Four.

Pitino also spent six years as an NBA head coach with the Knicks and Celtics.

"I am delighted to welcome Rick Pitino to Gael Nation," Iona athletic director Matthew Glovaski said.  "Rick is a Hall of Fame coach who has won at the highest levels and he is committed to leading our student-athletes and our program to national prominence.  He brings passion and energy and shares our desire to build a winning program that will make our community proud."

Pitino is a proven winner, but he also arrives in New Rochelle with a controversial past. He has been out of college basketball since he was fired by Louisville in September 2017 after allegations of a pay-for-play scandal that was part of the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. Pitino was also at Louisville during the time of the program's alleged escort scandal, in which recruits and players at Louisville were being entertained by strippers and prostitutes. Those infractions led to the Cardinals' 2013 national title being vacated.

Pitino has maintained his innocence in both scandals.

He had been the head coach of Panathinaikos B.C. in Greece since December 2018.

Iona had reached the NCAA tournament in six out of eight years heading into this season, which Cluess missed with an undisclosed illness.

With Tra Arnold serving as acting head coach, Iona went 12-17 this season, and 9-11 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The Gaels were eliminated by Saint Peter's in the second round of the MAAC tournament Wednesday -- an event that was canceled before a champion was crowned due to coronavirus concerns.