By Kevin Sweeney
One of the most polarizing figures in college basketball is back in the sport.
Iona Athletic Director Matt Glovaski told CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein that the school has hired Rick Pitino as its head men’s basketball coach. Pitino replaces Tim Cluess, who resigned earlier this week after missing the 2019-20 season due to health issues.
Pitino returns to college basketball after two years in Greece with Panathanaikos after his exile from the sport just before the 2017-18 season due to his involvement in the FBI scandal that rocked college basketball. His name had come up with numerous schools in recent years, but Iona was the first willing to pull the trigger. Sources told CBB Central that Pitino is close with prominent Iona booster Robert Lapenta and is also friendly with Iona President Seamus Carey.
The two names brought up most often in connection to the Iona vacancy once Cluess officially stepped down were Pitino and Jared Grasso. Grasso is the head coach at Bryant and was Cluess’ top assistant at Iona for a number of years. However, a source told CBB Central that St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Tobin Anderson was also heavily involved in the opening and met with the Iona administration last week regarding the position. Anderson is one of the brightest D2 coaches in the sport and has experience in the MAAC from his time as an assistant at Siena.
Pitino and Iona face a number of questions on how to move forward. New Rochelle, where Iona is located, has been hit especially hard by COVID-19. Meanwhile, with April live periods canceled due to the virus, Pitino may face additional challenges in building a roster. Iona is likely to have at least five spots to fill this offseason. However, it has to be seen as a coup for Iona to land a Hall of Famer to replace Cluess, one of the best coaches in MAAC history.