Rick Pitino admits he deserved to be fired by Louisville, says Iona is his last job in coaching

Sporting News

At long last, Rick Pitino admits it.

“Looking back now, I deserved to be fired by Louisville.”

Doing an interview with WFAN radio station in New York City, the newly named coach at Iona College insisted he had not personally broken any NCAA rules but acknowledged he was responsible for hiring the assistant coach whose alleged activities were cited by the FBI in formal charging documents and led to his firing by the University of Louisville in October 2017.

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MORE: Pitino willing to play far off Broadway in return to college coaching at Iona

Pitino subsequently sued the University of Louisville Athletic Association for $40 million, claiming U of L did not have cause to fire him and thus was responsible for honoring the remainder of his contract. The case was settled last September with no money changing hands but Louisville agreeing to change the terminology of his departure to “resignation.”

“What have I learned? I wish I could say I would have hired different people, but I did my due diligence. I checked all those people out,” Pitino told the "Moose and Maggie" program. “So I think what I learned mostly, and I didn’t do a good job of … excuses I believe always are a sign of weakness. And I made excuses. I should have just said, ‘I hired them, I take full responsibility, the axe has to fall on me.' Which it did. And move on. I wish I would have just handled it that way.”

Pitino compiled a 416-143 record in 16 seasons at Louisville, including three Final Fours and the 2013 NCAA championship. The second and third of those Final Fours and the NCAA title were vacated following the “Breaking Cardinal Rules” scandal, in which the NCAA found that exotic dancers were performing for recruits and U of L players at the school’s athletic residence hall.

Pitino discussed the responsibility of former staff member Andre McGee — a point guard and captain on Louisville’s exceptional 2009 team — in allegedly arranging those parties.

“I’m able today to forgive Andre McGee,” Pitino said. “He cost me an awful lot in my life, but I’m able to forgive him because that’s your faith. If you don’t learn to forgive, then you’re not much of a person. And I would love to be forgiven for some of the things I’ve done in my life. Which I have.”

Just months after those penalties for that scandal were handed down, Louisville was mentioned — though not by name — in charging documents related to the Justice Department investigation of the basketball talent game. One of Pitino’s assistants was present on an FBI wiretap at a meeting where another man discussed an apparel company making payments to a prospective Louisville recruit.

MORE: College basketball is warned: FBI plays higher-stakes game than NCAA

“I’ve got to take ownership and responsibility for the people I was leading,” Pitino said. But he also said he does not expect to receive any penalties from the NCAA for that situation.

He said he “paid the price in a great way. I lost a lot of dignity by people doing it the wrong way.” Pitino said anyone who disbelieves him can call any player from Boston U, Providence, Kentucky or Louisville about the way he ran a college program.

Pitino has coached in Greece the past two seasons at Panathinaikos. In trying to get back to coaching in the U.S., he told WFAN he was looking for a Catholic school situation like Iona. He thought if Ed Cooley had become the new Michigan coach in spring 2019, he might have an opportunity to return to Providence. He also had discussed an opening with Holy Cross.

But Iona — close to where one of his sons lives, to an apartment he owns in Manhattan and to Winged Foot Country Club (where he has been a member 30 years) — offered what he wanted. Pitino, 67, claims will be his last job in coaching.

“I can tell you right now, the only school that could afford me, with my buyout, is Fort Knox University,” Pitino told WFAN. “I don’t think with the type of buyout I have, and I’m too embarrassed to even tell you the number it’s so scary, Iona definitely is my last stop.”

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