Rick Pitino focused on NCAA Tournament, not St. John’s coaching rumors

Rick Pitino St. John's
Iona Gaels head coach Rick Pitino coach speaks with reporters.

The Iona Gaels are headed back to the NCAA Tournament after taking home the MAAC Tournament crown over the weekend in Atlantic City, but plenty of focus remains on head coach Rick Pitino, who is making headlines because of another school’s coaching change. 

Less than 20 miles away from Iona’s Westchester campus, St. John’s University’s decision to part ways with head men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson has led to speculation that they’ll look to bring Pitino to Queens. Pitino is one of the top coaches in college basketball and would reinvigorate a St. John’s program that has struggled to regain its luster in the Big East. 

But Pitino, whose resume includes coaching stops at Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville along with two brief stints coaching in the NBA, isn’t getting lost in the rumor mill. 

“I’ve been through it all my life. In (1996) I had five NBA teams that were supposedly going to hire me and it’s internet and TV hirings,” Pitino told reporters during an event at Iona College on Sunday. “It’s not reality, so what you do is you pay no attention to it. It’s obviously a little bigger here because it’s a local school that they’re mentioning, but I’m sure (St. John’s) has their candidates.” 

There is likely a list of names the athletics department at St. John’s is considering. However, various reports have linked Pitino and the school to one another. 

Pitino was raised in Bayville and went to high school at St. Dominic’s in Oyster Bay. Aside from his connection to the area, Pitino also has an existing relationship with St. John’s president Brian Shanley. 

In the three years he’s been at Iona, Pitino has helped raise the level of the program going 64–21 during that time and making appearances in the NCAA Tournament in two of those three years. There had been discussions of a new contract for Pitino at Iona, but those fell through. 

That has also led to the growing speculation that the legendary college basketball coach could have his sights set elsewhere. Aside from St. John’s, Texas Tech is rumored to be interested in Pitino’s services. 

“At the end of the year I’ll look at certain situations,” Pitino said. “Even though I’m local, I bet I haven’t been to St. John’s campus in 30 years. I don’t even know how to get there. I’d have to use navigation, so it’s not as easy as people think. … I’ve been through a lot (of conferences). It’s not going to blow me away any conference or anything because I’ve been through it. I’ve also coached the Knicks and the Celtics, so you go after happiness. 

“At this point in your life, you go after happiness, you go after where you want to coach and what you want to do. What challenges you want to take on.” 

Iona doesn’t appear to be too surprised about the speculation surrounding Pitino. Iona president Seamus Carey told the New York Post over the weekend “we’re aware he might go.” 

For the time being the focus for Pitino is on the Gaels upcoming matchup with UConn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

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