Rick Pitino Shoots Down Maryland Rumors; The Legendary Coach Is Dedicated To Elevating Iona Program

Head coach Rick Pitino of the Iona Gaels during a game against the Seton Hall Pirates at Prudential Center. (Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images)

Iona head coach Rick Pitino has coached in the NBA and NCAA, including stops with the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, Kentucky and Louisville. He’s one of the most recognizable coaches in college basketball history.

The 69-year-old living legend has been successful throughout his career, winning national titles at both Bluegrass State institutions. 

In the words of the legendary Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest, who listed Pitino among his NCAA Tourney titans back in 2014:

“The coaching wizard led Providence to a Final Four in the ’80s with point guard/now Florida HC Billy Donovan. Pitino then led Kentucky to two Final Fours and produced a slew of pros. He just led Louisville to two Final Four appearances, winning the title last year after learning of his Hall of Fame induction. Need I say more?”

Scandals aside, there’s no questioning his ability to build and lead a program.

Pitino has been linked to a few Power Five gigs over the last few months. A proven winner and iconic brand such as RP will always find his name in head coaching discussions. The latest school to be associated with Pitino is ACC power Maryland, whose head coach, Mark Turgeon, resigned in December. 

Assistant coach Danny Manning has filled in on an interim basis, but the school wants to hit a home run hire. Pitino is that type of hire, but in a Twitter post Thursday Pitino said he won’t be leaving the Bronx and the Iona Gaels anytime soon.

“I’m totally committed to my players,” Pitino said. “It will not be me.”

The Sports Junkies Reported Pitino Was The Favorite

Local DMV sports radio personalities Eric Bickel and Jason Bishop of 106.7 FM The Fan reported that Pitino was the favorite to land the job earlier in the week. Both are Maryland natives and Bickel is a graduate of the College Park institution. Scoring Pitino would be a major win, so their overzealousness in reporting can be attributed to them wanting to see a legendary program that has been on the skids of late get back to the top. 

Pitino is used to coaching juggernaut programs, but he has a fulfilling situation at unheralded Iona, as they currently sit at 24-5 and 16-2 in the MAAC, where he’s easily the biggest coaching brand they’ve ever had.

The Gaels look poised for a return to March Madness. In Pitino’s first season, the Gaels won the automatic bid by winning the conference tourney. They then gave No. 2 seed Alabama all it could handle in the 2021 NCAA Tourney. This past November they actually finished the job, upsetting 10th-ranked Bama. 

Coaches don’t usually use schools as steppingstones at 70 years old. Iona, the small college in New Rochelle was one of the few schools to throw Pitino a life preserver. After the past few years of success, Pitino and Iona have reportedly worked on a lifetime contract recently. He gets to finish his career as a program builder, sharing his years of experience — the highs and the lows — with young men who couldn’t this kind of “educational basketball experience” anywhere in the country. 

There’s not a situation or experience on the pro or college level that Pitino hasn’t encountered and probably conquered.

“I got 800 career wins here, but I said I want to get another 200 here” said an energized Pitino, who surpassed the magical mark this month. “And God willing I don’t roll a seven anytime soon, maybe it will happen. This is a great job, we can make this into something really, really special. … Great place, I’m really happy, I hope I can get 1,000 here. God willing, I hope I can live long enough to see that.”

Last Month InsideMDSports Reported Other Maryland Candidates

In January, Jeff Ermann reported that landing Pitino was nothing more than a huge swing hoping to make contact. Ermann offered some more realistic candidates for the position, listing coaches like Andy Enfield (USC), Ed Cooley (Providence) and Kevin Willard (Seton Hall) as real possibilities to come to College Park.

“We’re getting close to the home stretch, probably going to make their hire sometime shortly after March Madness,” Ermann said. “They’ve done a pretty good job of keeping it quiet if they do have a favorite. You continue to hear the same handful of names circulating pretty often, most notably, Andy Enfield, Ed Cooley and Kevin Willard.
“Obviously, you have the wild-card Rick Pitino that a lot of people would love to see. He’s probably the most polarizing in terms of fans, whether they would want him or not. There’s a lot of other names, too, but no one has really emerged as a known favorite.”

Pitino Committed To Building Iona Program 

With Pitino taking his name out of the mix, that leaves Enfield, Cooley and Willard. With the seasons Enfield and Cooley have had at their respective schools, it’s unlikely they will leave.

The best hope is Willard, who’s a great recruiter and knows the DMV area, and would effectively migrate in the recruiting hotbed. Then there’s interim coach Danny Manning, who seems to have righted the ship late in the year, giving him a shot at landing the position permanently.

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JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.