Rick Pitino, the Hall of Fame coach who was fired from Louisville in 2017 after a string of scandals, has agreed to a six-year deal to become the new men’s basketball coach at St. John’s, the university said on Monday.
Pitino, 70, was expected to be introduced at a news conference on Tuesday at noon at Madison Square Garden, where he coached Patrick Ewing and the Knicks in the late 1980s and where St. John’s plays some of its home games.
The move was one of two major coaching changes in the Big East Conference. Also on Monday, Georgetown announced that it had hired Ed Cooley away from Providence to replace Ewing, who was fired as the Hoyas’ coach this month. Cooley is the first men’s coach in the league to move directly from one Big East team to another.
“Rick knows Big East basketball and is determined to take and keep the Red Storm program where we know it belongs,” the Rev. Brian J. Shanley, the president at St. John’s, said in a statement.
Pitino has spent the past three seasons at Iona University, the private Roman Catholic school of about 3,000 undergraduates in New Rochelle, N.Y. Pitino led Iona on a 14-game winning streak to capture the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament championships, then lost to Connecticut in the first round of the N.C.A.A. tournament.
It will be Pitino’s third stint in the Big East Conference after coaching at Providence and Louisville, but he won’t have to move. He can remain at his home on the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., while taking his star power to games in Jamaica, Queens, and Madison Square Garden. He is expected to take some members of his staff from Iona with him to St. John’s.
St. John’s fired Mike Anderson on March 10 after the team missed three consecutive N.C.A.A. tournaments. (Anderson coached for four seasons, but the tournament was not held in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.) The Red Storm haven’t been to the tournament since 2019.
Pitino had the backing of a longtime St. John’s coach, Lou Carnesecca.
“I don’t think we can get a better coach,” the 98-year-old Carnesecca told Fox 5 New York of Pitino before Pitino’s decision was public. He added: “Right? You can’t bring back Naismith.”
Pitino said in a statement that competing against Carnesecca and St. John’s was “one of my great coaching memories.” He added: “It is surreal to now have this opportunity to bring St. John’s back to prominence.”
Pitino met with Shanley, who spent 15 years as the president at Providence before he went to St. John’s in 2020, on Sunday on campus. Pitino laid out his vision for the program, which included an investment in improving facilities. Pitino said last week that Shanley once offered him the job at Providence while he was at Louisville.
Asked on Thursday if St. John’s could climb back to the heights it achieved when it reached the Final Four in 1985 along with its fellow Big East members Georgetown and Villanova, Pitino said that new rules in college sports to permit athletes to have endorsement deals allowed for any program to compete.
“Obviously you’re losing for a reason, but any place can be built,” he said.
Despite a checkered history that included several scandals while at Louisville, Pitino is considered one of the best coaches in college basketball history.
He is the only coach to lead two different men’s programs — Kentucky and Louisville — to national championships, although the 2013 title at Louisville was vacated and Pitino lost his job there after an F.B.I. investigation in which two assistant coaches were accused of funneling money from the university’s apparel sponsor, Adidas, to high school recruits. Pitino has long said that he did not know about the scheme, or another involving a staff member soliciting prostitutes and strippers for players and recruits.
“You can take down a banner, but you can’t take down a national championship,” Pitino said last week.
Pitino left coaching for more than a year, then coached a professional team in Greece before returning to the college ranks at Iona.
Several current and former Big East coaches believe Pitino will be an important — and potentially scary — addition to the league.
“Anything that happens relative to programs being superstrong in our league is only going to be beneficial to the Big East,” UConn Coach Dan Hurley said last week.
Pitino said last week that he hoped to coach for another decade.
“Well, I’m physically fit and mentally I think I still have it,” he said on Thursday. “But my wife always says, ‘If you want to make God laugh, make a plan.’ I think you just take it one year at a time.”
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