A federal investigation and Southern District of New York ruling exonerated Rick Pitino in the eyes of the law in 2018.
But college basketball was not yet ready to accept one of its most formidable coaches back to the game, with a recruiting scandal that included stripper parties and improper benefits paid to recruits during his time with the Louisville Cardinals.
So Pitino, 67, embarked to Greece where he coached pro ball for two years before being hired at Iona over the weekend. All the while, he maintained his innocence while also brushing off any responsibility. But he changed that tune on Monday during a lengthy interview with WFAN in New York.
“Looking back on it now, I deserved to be fired by Louisville,” Pitino said. “Was I innocent of any wrongdoing? Yes I was, but I was the leader and I deserved to be fired. I need to move on and that’s what I probably have learned the most.”
Throughout the discussion, Pitino insisted he’d moved on and forgiving those he feel wronged him.
“I totally agree with the University of Louisville firing me,” Pitino said. “It was strange I’ve been blackballed by the business, rightfully so by the way, because — I shouldn’t say blackballed — having been kept out of the business because they took their time with the trial.
“I left for Greece a very bitter person,” Pitino said. “Bitter at my assistant coaches for betraying me. Bitter at the school that’d fired me the way it did.”
But now he’s back, and he returned without the negative feelings toward others.
“I was the leader of the team, the leader of the business,” he said. “I had to take responsibility for people doing wrong. So I left that bitterness behind me in Greece.”
With the college basketball season over, Pitino said coaches from across the country have begun sending him film of potential recruits and transfers. He’s also close to filling out his staff, he said.
ESPN’s Dick Vitale told Pitino that the late Jim Valvano had said the best years of his coaching career were at Iona. It’s an air of nostalgia Pitino is seeking at this stage, and more than once over the last couple of days he’s said the happiest years of his career were the two he spent at Providence — an experience he’ll try to replicate more than three decades later at another small, Catholic school.
“I thought it’d be an unbelievable way to end your career,” he said.