Rick Pitino returning to college basketball; accepts position at Iona

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NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (AP) — Hall of Famer Rick Pitino was named basketball coach at Iona College on Saturday.

Pitino coached at Louisville from 2001-17 before being fired in a pay-for-play scandal and had been coaching in Greece. He replaces Tim Cluess, who resigned Friday due to health concerns after 10 years and six NCAA Tournament appearances.

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“My passion in basketball started in New York and will end there at Iona College,” Pitino said in a statement released by the Catholic school located north of New York City in suburban Westchester County that has an undergraduate enrollment of 3,300 students.

“Tim Cluess has done a spectacular job creating success and a winning spirit,” Pitino added. “At Iona, I will work with the same passion, hunger and drive that I’ve had for over 40 years.”

The 67-year-old Pitino has a 770-271 overall record in college and became the first coach to take three different schools to the Final Four. He won national championships at Louisville (2013) and Kentucky (1996) and also went to the Final Four with Providence in 1987.

Pitino coached twice in the NBA, with the New York Knicks (1987-89) and the Boston Celtics (1997-2001), where he was also team president.

Last June, Pitino coached Panathinaikos to the championship in the Greek League.

Iona President Seamus Carey said “after a thorough interview process we are confident that Rick’s experience and commitment to Iona and our community make him the right person to continue to build on Tim Cluess’ success.”

Pitino’s return to college basketball comes nearly six months after he and Louisville settled lawsuits stemming from his departure in the wake of a federal investigation of corruption in college basketball.

The coach had sued the University of Louisville Athletic Association for more than $38.7 million in November 2017, alleging its breached its contract by firing him for cause the previous month. The school had countersued and sought monetary damages for vacated games and bonuses. Pitino received no money in the settlement, with his personnel file changing from termination to a resignation effective 13 days before he was fired.

The settlement closed a bitter final chapter between the school and Pitino, who wasn’t named in the federal complaint. He repeatedly said he knew nothing about payments made to the family of a recruit to sign with Louisville.

The school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the federal investigation occurred as it appealed NCAA sanctions that cost Louisville its 2013 national championship.

In that case, the governing body ordered the vacation of 123 victories, including the Cardinals’ third national title and their 2012 Final Four appearance, following an escort’s book allegations that former Louisville men’s basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino said he was unaware of any of the activities described in the book. While Louisville reiterated in a joint settlement statement that infractions under his watch led to “serious consequences” for the school, it acknowledged Pitino’s success and commitment to his players and thanked him for his service.

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Austin Miller joins ABC 36 Sports Team as a Sports Reporter and Weekend Anchor. Austin is from the Louisville area and graduated from St. Xavier High School in 2008. Austin graduated from Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a second concentration in German. While at IU, Austin was a blogger at Kentsterling.com and co-host, producer and engineer for WIUX, the school’s student radio station. Before coming to ABC 36, Austin was a news videographer at WLFI in West Lafayette from 2012-2015. While working with WLFI, Austin had the chance to cover the Purdue Boilermakers. He then accepted a Sports/New Reporter position at Local 4 KSNB-TV in Hastings Nebraska and was eventually promoted to sports full-time as the Weekend Sports Anchor/Reporter. While at KSNB-TV, Austin covered the University of Nebraska, the University of Nebraska-Kearney and Hastings College. After spending nearly six years away from home, Austin is excited to return to the Bluegrass State to cover the teams he grew up watching. In his spare time, Austin enjoys playing basketball, working out and cooking. If you have any story ideas or would like to say “Hello,” you can reach Austin by email at amiller@wtvq.com or direct message him on Twitter @AustinMillerTV.