Iona College is a betting favorite to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference because of its strong roster. However, another major factor is the man on the bench, second-year Gaels coach Richard Pitino. Pitino used to be a regular success story when explaining how to bet on march madness.
Pitino, who won national championships at Kentucky and Louisville, ended up having to vacate his title with the Cardinals when his tenure was embroiled in scandal. But Pitino, who is now 69 years old, never wanted to give up the ghost after being fired by Louisville in 2017. Pitino humbled himself, going to coach in Greece, before coming back stateside to take over at Iona.
Here’s a look at his many rises and falls.
Pitino Wasn’t Bellyaching About the 3-point Line
Long before it was cool to say the 3-point shots ruined the game, Pitino flaunted modern conventions and utilized the rule well during his tenure at Providence in the late 1980s. The Friars attempted the second-most 3-point shots in the nation that season and would ride the momentum to the Final Four in 1987.
The success would land Pitino a job as head coach of the New York Knicks.
Pitino’s First Tenure in NBA Wasn’t Bad
Pitino would later be the butt of jokes for his failure as a coach and general manager of the Boston Celtics in the late 1990s, but his tenure with the Knicks wasn’t bad. New York went 90-74 during his two years as a coach and made the playoffs both years.
Kentucky Establishes His Brilliance
Eddie Sutton had a four-year stay at Kentucky that was largely a disaster. When Pitino came in, he had to try and rebuild a Wildcats program that had been hit with probation. After waiting out two seasons where Kentucky was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament, Pitino didn’t miss out on the big dance in his last six years.
The Wildcats went 219-50 under Pitino and made the Final Four three times. In 1995-96, Kentucky won the program’s sixth title.
Celtics Career is Not Totally Forgettable
Pitino’s time in Boston was a failure as the Celtics never made the playoffs in four seasons and never approached having a winning record before he resigned halfway through the 2000-01 season. However, it did leave sports fans with one of the most indelible quotes in sports history.
Frustrated with the pressure from the fanbase and media to restore the Celtics’ glorious past, Pitino had a memorable press conference blowup. Pitino told the assembled media “Larry Bird isn’t walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they’re going to be gray and old.”
Louisville Shows Pitino Still Top Coach, But Not Person
Pitino had once been brought into a Kentucky program to restore the prestige of a program reeking of scandal. When Pitino came back to coach at Louisville, he would end up leaving the Cardinals with a scandal of their own. First the good of his time at Louisville.
Pitino compiled a 293-143 record and helped Louisville transition out of the Conference USA and into the shark tank that was the Big East. The Cardinals’ were a tournament regular and won the national championship following the 2012-13 season where they finished with a 35-5 record.
However, Louisville’s championship, a Sweet 16 appearance in 2013-14, and Elite Eight finish in 2014-15 would all have to be vacated. There were a number of issues during Pitino’s program. In June 2017, Pitino would be suspended by Louisville for the first five games of the season for not stopping a sex scandal where escorts were paid to dance and sleep with Cardinals players and recruits.
Louisville and Pitino would later get caught up in a pay-for-play recruiting scandal in 2017. The Cardinals weren’t named in the suit specifically, but one of their recruits, Brian Bowen, was originally offered $100,000 to play for the school. Bowen enrolled in classes, but would never play in college following the scandal.
The fallout from the scandal would lead to Pitino’s termination in September of 2017. Following a two-year lawsuit, Louisville and Pitino settled with his termination being called a resignation instead of a firing.