Rick Pitino Says Coaching Iona Is 'Heaven,' Done with 'Big Time' Schools

Jenna CiccotelliAnalyst IIMarch 21, 2021

Iona head coach Rick Pitino gestures as his team plays against Alabama in the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

After leading Iona through a season marred by COVID-19 to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title, then to the NCAA tournament as a No. 15 seed—where the team fell to No. 2 Alabama on Saturday—legendary NCAA basketball coach Rick Pitino said he has no plans to return to "big time" programs and said he is "in heaven right now" with the Gaels. 

"It's no longer about me trying to move up any ladders, make more money," he said (h/t Adam Rittenberg of ESPN). "I'm at a great place in my life. I can coach six, seven more years, God willing, just try to make young men better, try to make the program reach heights it's never reached. That's all I have planned. It's a great place to be." 

This season was Pitino's return to the collegiate ranks after he was fired from Louisville in the midst of a federal fraud investigation in 2017.

His comments come as Indiana is seeking a new head coach after a 12-15 season that resulted in the firing of Archie Miller. 

While at Louisville, Pitino won the 2013 NCAA championship and brought the team to three Final Fours and six Elite Eights. Before he joined the school in 2001, he led Kentucky to a title in 1996 and reached three Final Fours and four Elite Eights through eight seasons. 

Pitino, who got his start at Hawaii and Boston University before heading to Providence, where he reached his first tournament in 1986-87, spent last season in Greece, coaching Panathinaikos in the EuroLeague. 

"I want to take a smaller school, like a Providence, like an Iona, a small school and try to make it big," Pitino said. "But I wanted no part of any of that other, I had enough of that. It turned me off, to be quite honest with you, in a lot of different areas. I now don't have to look over my shoulder and see who I'm going to trust, who I'm not going to trust." 

For all the success Pitino's team had in his first year with the program, he thinks the group will improve in 2021-22 in a season that he believes has the potential to lay the foundation for more tournament appearances for the Gaels—including the opportunity to join the bracket as an at-large bid. 

"We just got to improve the program, take the next step," he said. "We will take the next step. There's no doubt in my mind that Iona is going to be a force to be reckoned with down the road."