On Wednesday, 106.7 The Fan D.C.’s The Sports Junkies hosts Jason Bishop and Eric Bickel reported on air that the Maryland Terrapins are “heavily pursuing” Iona Gaels men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino. That report, citing multiple sources, had Bickel saying “He’s their number-one choice. They’re going hard after him right now and there are a couple donors that are leading the charge.” However, schools don’t always get even their top choice, and Pitino’s Twitter reaction Thursday suggests they won’t be getting him (regardless of if he was actually their top choice or not):
The University of Maryland is one of the premier institutions of higher learning. It's basketball program can be among the nation’s best. I hope they find the next great Gary Williams. I love coaching at Iona, and I’m totally committed to my players. It will not be me.
— Rick Pitino (@RealPitino) March 3, 2022
Pitino (seen above reacting to an official’s call during a Jan. 25 game) is in his second season with the Gaels, and has them with a 24-5 record this season, first in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. He also has 806 regular-season wins, reaching that 800-win mark earlier this year. (That does include 123 wins not counted by the NCAA thanks to the Louisville Cardinals‘ self-imposed vacation of wins from the 2011-15 seasons.) So it’s not unreasonable that there might be some Power Five programs at least taking a look at bringing him back to that level, even amidst all the controversy in his past. But it doesn’t sound like he’ll be heading to Maryland.
Pitino last coached at the Power Five level with the Louisville Cardinals from 2001-17. There, he won a national title in 2013, but was fired in 2017 (along with athletic director Tom Jurich) after a FBI investigation implicated Louisville in a scheme of impermissible benefits distribution from shoe companies to players to attend specific schools. However, Pitino’s lawsuit over his for-cause firing led to a 2019 settlement and to that firing being changed to a resignation.
After Louisville, Pitino went to Greece to coach Panathinaikos. He then returned to the U.S. in March 2020 with Iona. And he did say earlier this year that he loves coaching the Gaels, which came around reports of him negotiating a “lifetime contract” there. Here’s what Pitino told reporters after his 800th win on Jan. 30, as relayed by Eugene Rapay of The Rockland/Westchester Journal News:
“I told the team that I’m glad that I got 800 here, but I want to get another 200 here — God willing,” Pitino said. “Maybe it’ll happen, but I’m real pleased coaching these guys that I can get No. 800 here. It’s a small school that you appreciate all the little things. It doesn’t have the big things or the bells and whistles I had at Louisville, Kentucky, but none of that bothers me. That’s the great thing.”
“All the guys that coached here, really enjoyed it so much, and the reason they enjoy it so much is that it’s just an easy lifestyle to coach kids that really care. We’re not worried about getting a NIL for $150,000. Nobody worries about that, you just worry about playing ball and getting better.”
We’ll see if Pitino does wind up sticking at Iona for the long term, or if he eventually leaves if another big program comes calling. But, as per his own comments at least, it seems like he isn’t headed to Maryland.
[Rick Pitino on Twitter; photo from Seth Harrison/The Rockland/Westchester Journal-News, via USA Today Sports]