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Rick Pitino and college basketball’s second-chance coaches discuss new challenges

Rick Pitino isn’t going into his first season at Iona with the sole intention of getting revenge on the forces that ran him out of college basketball.

That’s not to say he isn’t motivated.

“To say I have a chip on my shoulder would be incorrect. I have a boulder on my shoulder,” Pitino said. “Not for seeking revenge; it’s more to the fact I’m more passionate, more hungry, today than I was in my 30s. It’s because of my absence from the game of college basketball. I do have a major, major boulder on my shoulder — but not to stick it to people.”

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Pitino has been out of the college game since Louisville fired him for cause in October 2017, following an FBI investigation into college basketball that included allegations regarding the Cardinals’ recruitment of Brian Bowen. Pitino has steadfastly maintained his innocence in the three years since his ouster, but zero colleges were willing to hire him in the two coaching carousel cycles that followed. He went overseas and took over the Greek club Panathinaikos in 2018, leading them to a Greek Cup and a Greek Basket League championship.

It was only a matter of time before he returned to college, and Iona stepped forward last spring when it needed to replace Tim Cluess, who resigned due to health issues.

Pitino’s last four jobs before Greece were some of the biggest in the sport: New York Knicks, Kentucky, Boston Celtics and Louisville. Iona is obviously a bit different, but it checks some other boxes that make Pitino very comfortable.

“If it was in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, North Carolina, I would not have taken the job. I live five miles away,” Pitino said of the New Rochelle, New York, campus. “I’m not looking to move. I’m looking to build it into something special. My biggest regret wasn’t leaving Kentucky. My biggest regret was leaving Providence. Iona reminds me so much of Providence. Small, Catholic school with a small, charming campus. It reminds me so much of what I had in ’87. It allured me here.”

Rick Pitino — second from left, watching last month’s U.S. Open from his yard, which abuts Winged Foot golf course — has expressed his fondness for being back home. Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

At 68 years of age, Pitino is unlikely to change his coaching tactics too much. And despite turning over the roster and facing a rebuild, Iona has a tradition of success over the past decade. The Gaels have been to the NCAA tournament in six of the previous nine seasons, including four in a row prior to last season. So what’s the biggest thing Pitino is trying to accomplish early on?

It’s pretty simple: Move on from the NCAA cloud that has followed him the past few years; and Pitino knows he has to play a role in achieving that.

“Richard gave me a good piece of advice,” Pitino said, referring to his son, the head coach at