Rick Pitino returns to college basketball as Iona coach

Why Pitino can take Iona to new heights (1:10)

Jay Bilas explains why it makes sense for Iona to hire Rick Pitino as head coach. (1:10)

Rick Pitino is returning to college basketball as the next head coach at Iona, the school announced Saturday.

Iona coach Tim Cluess announced Friday that he is stepping down due to health reasons after 10 seasons with the Gaels. Cluess won either the regular-season or conference tournament championship every season from 2012 to 2019 before missing this past season with an undisclosed health issue.

Pitino, 67, hasn't coached in college since October 2017, when Louisville fired him after an FBI investigation into college basketball. No one from the Cardinals was arrested, but they were linked to the investigation through allegations that Adidas paid $100,000 to the family of five-star prospect Brian Bowen to steer him to Louisville. Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were placed on unpaid administrative leave and then fired for cause.

The NCAA has not announced penalties for any of the programs connected to the FBI investigation, but the expectation is they could come down sometime this spring or summer. It's unclear whether there will be any penalties handed down to Pitino.

"We have no reason to believe that would happen," Iona director of athletics Matthew Glovaski said when asked about the NCAA potentially punishing Pitino. "Because we've had such a thorough interview process. ... Rick's values aligned with the goals and values for the college. He was the right leader at the right time in his life for this job."

Pitino, who is from New York, told ESPN that Iona was the right fit for him because it brought him home.

"Iona brings me back," Pitino said. "Something that [ESPN's] Dick Vitale said to me last week. He said Jim Valvano said the best years of his life were coaching at Iona. I knew it was the right fit; it's 30 minutes from my apartment in New York City; it's 10 minutes from my son in Harrison, New York."

Pitino has won two national championships in college, in 1996 with Kentucky and 2013 with Louisville -- although the latter was later vacated by the NCAA -- and he has been to seven Final Fours. He's the only coach to win an NCAA Division I men's basketball title at two different schools.

Pitino also spent several seasons coaching in the NBA with the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics. He was hired in December 2018 by Panathinaikos in Greece, winning a Greek Cup and the Greek Basket League championship.

He told ESPN that he will fulfill his commitments to Panathinaikos despite landing the new job.

"We're in sixth place, fighting for a playoff spot," Pitino said. "And I'm still going to coach the national team. [If the NBA season ends], I'm going to get the Greek Freak [Giannis Antetokounmpo] on my team."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that New Rochelle, the city in Westchester County in which Iona is located, has "the largest cluster of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country."

Said Pitino in a statement Saturday: "The priority in New Rochelle right now is helping students continue their education online in light of the coronavirus and I very much look forward to the day when the community is back on campus and to get to work on further elevating this strong program."