NEW YORK — Rick Pitino is back in the Big East Conference.
St. John’s hired the Hall of Fame coach Monday to boost a storied program that’s been mired in mediocrity for much of this century. The school announced that Pitino will be introduced during a news conference Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
Following a successful run at nearby mid-major Iona, the 70-year-old Pitino was plucked away to replace Mike Anderson, who was fired after four seasons in charge of the Red Storm without making the NCAA Tournament.
Reports quickly surfaced that St. John’s planned to target Pitino, who grew up on Long Island not far from the school’s Queens campus in New York City.
“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,” athletic director Mike Cragg said in a press release. “There is no doubt in my mind he will restore a championship-level program and culture for St. John’s Basketball.”
Pitino has been to seven Final Fours and won a pair of NCAA championships, one each at Kentucky (1996) and Louisville (2013).
He was dismissed at Louisville in 2017 after an FBI investigation into college basketball corruption led to allegations of NCAA violations. It was the third scandal, professional and personal, in an eight-year period with the Cardinals – but Pitino was eventually exonerated in the FBI-related case.
Pitino has been coaching college basketball so long that he was on the opposing bench with Big East rival Providence when St. John’s was a national power in the mid-1980s under Lou Carnesecca.
Now, he’s tasked with invigorating a Red Storm squad that hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game – or even reached the Big East semifinals – since 2000. The school has made only three NCAA appearances over the past two decades, the most recent coming in 2019 under Chris Mullin.
During that time, through several conference reconfigurations, St. John’s has fallen behind Big East foes with similar profiles such as Villanova, Providence and Seton Hall.
“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. “It is surreal to now have this opportunity to bring St. John’s back to prominence. I’m honored, humbled and grateful.”
The Red Storm went 18-15 during a turbulent 2022-23 season, including 7-13 in Big East play to finish eighth in the conference standings. They blew a 14-point lead against sixth-ranked and top-seeded Marquette in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, ending the season with a 72-70 loss in overtime that left Anderson with a 68-56 record at St. John’s, including 30-46 in Big East regular-season games.
Pitino has a .740 winning percentage in 35 seasons as a college basketball head coach. He has guided five schools to the NCAA Tournament, including Boston University (1983) and Iona (2021, 2023).
He took a surprising Providence team on a memorable run to the 1987 Final Four, but the 2013 national title Pitino won at Louisville (then in the Big East) was later vacated by the NCAA after an investigation found that an assistant coach paid escorts and exotic dancers to entertain players and recruits in campus dorms.
After two years coaching in Greece, he got the job at Iona – a small, private Catholic school located in New Rochelle, just north of New York City. And two years ago, he said the only reason he would leave would be to retire.
But his plans changed.
Pitino went 64-22 in three years with the Gaels, guiding them to two regular-season titles in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances. Seeded 13th this year, they led No. 4 seed UConn at halftime before getting knocked out in the first round with an 87-63 loss that snapped a 14-game winning streak.
Pitino posted tweets thanking Iona administrators and “all those people who touched our lives.”
“To my players, the last three years. All I can say is you know how much I love you,” he tweeted. “Follow up, I’m not sad it ended. I’m so grateful it happened.”
Leading up to Iona’s NCAA Tournament game this year, Pitino said he hopes he can coach for 12 more years.
“But I’ll take six or seven,” he said.
Pitino had two stints in the NBA, one with the New York Knicks that featured a division title and a failed stretch with the Boston Celtics that didn’t produce a playoff appearance.
But in college, he’s endured only one losing season (13-14 at BU in 1980-81).
And now, at a time when Hall of Fame coaching contemporaries like Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim have reached the end of their road, Pitino is still going strong and getting new jobs.
St. John’s has the ninth-most wins among Division I teams, with 90 winning seasons in its 116-year basketball history.
The school has reached two Final Fours (1952, 1985) and won the NIT a record six times – including back-to-back crowns in the 1940s when that event was often considered the country’s premier postseason tournament.
Anderson plans to file an arbitration lawsuit against St. John’s, first reported by ESPN, over the approximately $11 million he would have been owed by the school had he not been fired “for cause.”
“I vehemently disagree with the University’s decision to terminate my contract for cause. The ‘for cause’ accusation is wholly without merit and I will be aggressively defending my contractual rights through an arbitration process,” Anderson said in a statement provided to the AP by M Group Strategic Communications CEO Jay Morakis, who confirmed the former Red Storm coach has retained attorney John Singer of Singer Deutsch to handle the case.
St. John’s declined to comment.