St. John's hires Rick Pitino to coach men's basketball team
The St. John’s basketball program finally may have found its savior.
University administrators and Rick Pitino reached an agreement Monday to put the Hall of Fame coach at the helm of the Red Storm. The deal is for six years, according to an ESPN report.
Pitino will be introduced at a Madison Square Garden news conference Tuesday at noon.
“One of my great coaching memories was having the distinct privilege of coaching against Lou Carnesecca and St. John’s, a Hall of Fame coach and historic program that I have always respected,” Pitino said in a statement issued by the school. “It is surreal to now have this opportunity to bring St John’s back to prominence.”
Born in Manhattan and raised on Long Island, Pitino has earned a reputation as a master rebuilder of great programs that have fallen from the national spotlight after restoring Kentucky and Louisville to prominence and winning national championship games with both.
The union came together quickly after Pitino’s Iona team lost to Connecticut in an NCAA West Regional first-round game Friday in Albany.
He was on campus Sunday to see the athletic facilities, had a face-to-face with Rev. Brian Shanley, the university president, and negotiations ensued.
Both sides expressed interest in making a deal and Pitino communicated a vision for the Red Storm and things he believed he would need from the administration to achieve it, a source close to Pitino said. It took less than 24 hours before there was an agreement on the terms.
“I am excited that this seasoned coaching veteran — who has won at the highest levels and is as passionate as ever — is committed to leading our student-athletes and our program to national prominence,” Shanley said in the statement. “Rick knows Big East basketball and is determined to take and keep the Red Storm program where we know it belongs.”
In 2011, Shanley was the president at Providence and tried to lure Pitino from Louisville for a second stint with the Friars. He’d capped his previous three-year stint there with a run to the 1987 Final Four.
St. John’s is a fitting next project for the 70-year-old Pitino. Since Carnesecca’s 1992 retirement, the once-perennial power has had only a handful of special seasons, including a 1999 run to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight and the 2000 Big East championship. It hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2000.
The last two coaches — St. John’s great Chris Mullin and Mike Anderson — missed the tournament in eight of their nine combined seasons, with only an appearance in the 2019 First Four. The school announced it was moving on from Anderson on March 10.
Pitino, who is leaving Iona after reaching the NCAA Tournament twice in his three seasons, thanked the Gaels’ administration, players and fans in three social media posts.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart to @SeamusCarey13, president of Iona. Thank you to @mglovs23, the AD and to all those people who touched our lives,” they read. “I’m not sad it ended. I’m so grateful it happened . . . To my players, the last three years. All I can say is you know how much I love you.”
Pitino has taken three schools — Kentucky, Louisville and Providence — to Final Fours, also coached Iona and Boston University and coached in the NBA with the Knicks and Celtics. In his 34 college seasons, his teams posted a losing record only once.
Pitino got Kentucky and Louisville to the Final Four in his fourth season at each and has more tools today that he can use to help bring St. John’s back. Players from other schools can enter the NCAA transfer portal and be eligible immediately to play for the Red Storm. And with players now able to earn money from their name, image and likeness, team supporters can form collectives to pay athletes for services (such as an autograph signing).
Pitino recently said, “If you have these collectives, then you go out there and you get yourself free agents.”
The coach is expected to offer positions on his St. John’s staff to most of his Iona assistants, including Steve Masiello, Bob Walsh and Taliek Brown, according to the source.
Pitino was ousted from Louisville in 2017 after a pair of issues arose: It was revealed that an assistant coach had employed escorts and dancers to entertain recruits on campus visits, and the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption unearthed recruiting violations.
Last year, Pitino was exonerated for the recruiting violations by the Independent Accountability Resolutions Process, which said it found “no violation by [Pitino] occurred given that he demonstrated he promoted an atmosphere of compliance.”
Pitino’s arrival immediately puts the Red Storm in a national spotlight and will elevate excitement about the program and make games an event.
The move to St. John’s also brings Pitino back to the Big East. In three of its last five seasons in the Big East, Louisville won the conference title.
“Coach Pitino is one of the most brilliant minds in the history of the game and has won at the highest levels everywhere he has coached,” St. John’s AD Mike Cragg said in the statement. “There is no doubt in my mind he will restore a championship-level program and culture for St. John’s basketball.”
Rick Pitino's college coaching career has been all over the map, including a six-game stint (2-4 record) where it all began at Hawaii during the 1975-76 season. He has made five longer stops since, taking each team to the NCAA Tournament at least once.
Seasons: 5 (1978-83)
Record: 91-51, .641
Postseason: 1 NCAA Tournament
Seasons: 2 (1985-87)
Record: 42-23, .646
Postseason: 1 NCAA Tournament, 1 Final Four
Seasons: 8 (1989-97)
Record: 219-50, .814
Postseason: 6 NCAA Tournaments, 3 Final Fours, 1 national title
Seasons: 16 (2001-17)
Record: 416-143, .744
Postseason: 13 NCAA Tournaments, 3 Final Fours, 1 national title
Seasons: 3 (2020-23)
Record: 64-22, .744
Postseason: 2 NCAA Tournaments