Despite Rick Pitino’s baggage after scandals at Louisville, another school was bound to give him another shot

There will be jokes in some circles because people always have jokes. And there will be scathing commentary in other places because outrage gets attention. But if you’re genuinely surprised by Iona’s decision to hire Rick Pitino, I guess I have just one question for you: Do you even follow college athletics?

If so, you should not be surprised.

Because if there’s one thing administrators have shown us over and over again, for decades and decades and decades, it’s that your checkered past is rarely an issue as long as you’re a lock to win big. And if ever there were a lock to win big, relative to whatever level he’s coaching collegiality, it’s probably Rick Pitino.

“At Iona,” Pitino said Saturday via a statement released in conjunction with the announcement of his hire, “I will work with the same passion, hunger and drive that I’ve had for over 40 years.”

To be clear, not all college administrators — not even most college administrators — would pull the trigger on something like this; it’s why Pitino will be working at a place like Iona instead of a place like Indiana, why he’ll be coaching in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference instead of the Atlantic Coast Conference. But, as they say, it only takes one. And the one, in this case, is Seamus Carey, who became president of Iona College last July after holding the same position at Transylvania University in Kentucky since 2014. Put another way, Carey, like Pitino, is a native New Yorker who recently worked in Kentucky; they have mutual close friends. And when you combine that with the fact that Pitino once owned horses with prominent Iona booster Robert V. LaPenta, well, it’s not difficult to connect the dots.

So Rick Pitino is back in college coaching.

And if you’re offended by that, again, I have just one question for you: Do you even follow college athletics? When the FBI announced its investigation into college basketball in September 2017, the implication was that the entire sport would be upended. In the coming months and years, evidence suggested major rules violations inside Arizona’s program, Kansas’ program, Auburn’s program, USC’s program, NC State’s program, so on and so forth. And yet the only head coach to lose his job because of anything connected to the scandal is Rick Pitino — and Pitino lost his job at Louisville despite the fact that the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach has still never been directly tied to an alleged violation.

Which is not to suggest Pitino should’ve never been fired.


Rick Pitino could be dealing with the NCAA again soon. 

When you, or the people you’re in charge of, put your employer through one scandal after another — first a personal scandal involving a very public extramarital affair, then an NCAA scandal involving strippers and prostitutes, then another NCAA scandal rooted in a pay-for-play scheme designed to land a 5-star prospect — it almost doesn’t matter if you had any direct ties to, or knowledge of, the alleged NCAA violations. At some point, enough is enough. And Louisville reached that point in October 2017.

I understood it then.

I still understand it now.

But as the years have passed, and Arizona’s Sean Miller, Kansas’ Bill Self and other men who have actually been directly tied to alleged rules violations have continued to coach with no real punishment to date, I’ve wondered for a while why Rick Pitino should be effectively banned from the sport. I could never come up with a great reason. And I’m sure that’s how Iona officials will eventually spin it when forced to do so, by saying Pitino is hardly perfect but also not much different than multiple coaches at the top of the sport.

In some ways, it’s a fair point.

All that said, the NCAA is still expected to send a notice of allegations to Louisville in the coming months, at which point Pitino could formally find himself in yet another NCAA scandal. At best, he’ll likely be hit with the same responsibility charge Self is currently facing. So a suspension in the future is possible, if not probable. And Pitino could, theoretically, be hit with a show-cause penalty too.

We have no reason to believe that would happen,” Iona athletic director Matt Glovaski told ESPN.

For his sake, I hope he’s right.

Otherwise, things could get complicated quickly.

But, either way, college basketball is a sport where Bruce Pearl has coached at Auburn with a show-cause penalty attached to his name, where Steve Fisher got another chance at San Diego State after being in charge at Michigan during the Fab Five era, where John Calipari is among the nation’s highest-paid coaches at Kentucky even though he vacated Final Four appearances at UMass and Memphis, where Todd Bozeman got another chance at Morgan State after admitting to paying a player while at Cal, where Will Wade is still coaching at LSU despite being caught on a wire-tap discussing a “strong-ass offer” for a prospect, where Sean Miller is still coaching at Arizona despite his top assistant being caught on a wiretap discussing what he said Miller’s role was in a pay-for-play scheme, where Bill Self is still coaching the nation’s top-ranked team at Kansas despite a pending NCAA case most believe will result in a severe punishment for KU’s storied program.

Remind me again why Rick Pitino is untouchable?

Bottom line, on one hand, I understand why you might think Rick Pitino should not be hired to coach college basketball again given all of his baggage, both past and pending. But, on the other hand, this is college basketball. So I have no idea what makes you think the standard of the sport is above Rick Pitino.

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