After a disappointing early exit from last season’s MAAC Tournament, head coach Rick Pitino is feeling optimistic for this year’s team and its non-conference schedule. The expectations are high once again for the Gaels, who were tabbed the top team in the MAAC entering the 2022-23 season.
Beyond that, though, is unclear for now.
Pitino, who has previously said Iona would be his final coaching stop before retirement in his hall of fame career, left the door open for a few possibilities on Thursday.
He has two years remaining on his five-year contract with Iona, and negotiations for a potential extension have stalled out for now.
“We didn’t necessarily talk about a lifetime contract, we talked about a new contract and it didn’t work out for a variety of reasons,” Pitino said. “I’m not upset, nobody’s upset, it just didn’t work out. There’s a changing of the guard with trustees and a few things that didn’t work out with the contract. It’s no hard feelings, we just move on and try to have a great team this year.”
The longtime coach earned his 800th coaching win last season in an 85-77 win over eventual March Madness darlings and Elite Eight team Saint Peter’s. The milestone includes the 123 victories that were vacated by the NCAA as part of a pay-for-play scandal at Louisville.
This will be his third season at Iona. The Gaels won the MAAC tournament title and qualified for the NCAA Tournament in his first year.
Last season, its promising season that included the first-ever win by a MAAC team over an AP top 10-ranked opponent − when the Gaels defeated Alabama on Thanksgiving − came to a halt in March. Iona was eliminated in the opening round of the NIT after missing out on an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. Pitino is a combined 37-14, and 23-6 in conference play at Iona.
According to Pitino, he had received several coaching offers to move to other Division I programs since his return to college basketball, but had turned them down over the years.
“I’d love to coach for a long time, as long as my health stays the same,” Pitino said. “I’d love to finish my career at Iona, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. You just never know about the future. I love where I’m living, I love the school, and I love my players even more than where I live, but you just never know. I really enjoyed the Euroleague, I had a great time at every place I’ve worked … and I’m just enjoying right now.”