Rick Pitino returns to coaching at Iona College after Tim Cluess steps down | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Tuesday / July 7.
  • Rick Pitino returns to coaching at Iona College after Tim Cluess steps down

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    **UPDATE 3/14/20**

    Rick Pitino has been named the new coach at Iona College. Read my story here on Forbes.com.

    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    Tim Cluess has stepped down at Iona after 10 seasons, and Rick Pitino and Jared Grasso are among the leading contenders, sources said.

    Pitino, the former Louisville and Kentucky coach, has the backing of some influential boosters who reached out to him earlier this season as he continues to coach professionally in Greece, sources said.

    A Naismith Hall of Famer, Pitino, 67, is the only coach to lead two college programs to an NCAA championship. He also comes with the baggage of multiple scandals at Louisville occurring on his watch, although he has long maintained he knew nothing about the one reportedly run by former staffer Andre McGee involving prostitutes and strippers in the Louisville dorms, or the Adidas scheme to pay Brian Bowen $100,000 to commit to Louisville.

    Grasso, 39, is the head coach at Bryant College and Cluess’ former top lieutenant at Iona. He has gone 23-37 in two seasons at Bryant, and went from 3 to 15 wins in 2 years after taking over the worst program in the country.

    Another name potentially in the mix is current Saint Peter’s head coach and former Iona assistant Shaheen Holloway, recently named the MAAC Coach of the Year. Holloway could also be a candidate at Fordham should they make a coaching change, sources said. Still, he faces a 20-month show case in the Taurean Thompson tampering case.

    “I want to sincerely thank the Iona College community and administration for the opportunity to be a part of Gael Nation for the past 10 years,” said Cluess, 61, who did not coach this past seasons due to health concerns.

    “I appreciate the concern and care that the Iona Community, in particular Dr. Carey, has demonstrated for me and my family over the past few months as I have been dealing with a complicated health issue that kept me from coaching.”

    “I look forward to my new role and assisting the College in every way I can going forward,” Cluess added.  “On behalf of myself and my family, I want to thank Gael Nation, including every student-athlete I had the honor to coach, for all their ever-present and vocal support.  I am proud of what we’ve accomplished together and look forward to supporting the program in my new advisory role.”

    “We’re extremely proud of Tim Cluess and how he represented our program over the last ten years,” said Director of Athletics Matthew Glovaski. “He elevated Iona men’s basketball and put us into the national spotlight on an annual basis. I want to recognize Coach’s resilience in dealing with a complicated health situation that kept him off the court this last season. We will continue to support Tim and his family as he manages his health matter and are very happy he will continue to contribute in an advisory role and remain an important part of the Iona family.”

    One of the greatest coaches in MAAC history, Cluess won five MAAC tournament championships and four regular season titles during his nine years on the sidelines.  His MAAC tournament win total is the most all-time in league history and his regular season win total ranks No. 2.

    In 2018-19, Iona men’s basketball earned its fourth-straight MAAC Championship, becoming the first program in the history of the league to four-peat. The Gaels owned the NCAA Division I’s longest conference tournament winning streak, one more than WAC’s New Mexico State, the MEAC’s North Carolina Central and the Big East’s Villanova.  Iona’s five conference titles in eight years was only exceeded by New Mexico State and Gonzaga.  Only 13 of the 351 Division I school appeared in four straight NCAA tournaments from 2016-2019. Gonzaga and Iona were the lone representatives in that group from a mid-major conference.  Iona also captured the MAAC’s regular season championship, becoming the first program in a decade to win both regular season and tournament crowns. For his efforts, Cluess was named the 2019 MAAC Coach of the Year.

    Under Cluess, Iona participated in a national postseason tournament in each of his nine seasons on the sidelines and won 20 or more games in eight. The Gaels also earned a MAAC regular season or tournament championship in his last eight seasons.

    Following his ninth season, Cluess continued his rise in the ranks in MAAC lore. His fifth MAAC tournament championship surpassed La Salle’s Speedy Morris four for most all-time in league history. Cluess won as many MAAC Championships as head coach as any other program in the MAAC (Siena 5, Manhattan 5). With eight 20+ win campaigns he stands with three more than Morris’ Explorers accomplished from 1986-1992. Cluess’ eighth MAAC championship game appearance is three more than former 15-year Niagara head coach Joe Mihalch. With three more victories this season, his 22 all-time MAAC tournament wins is four ahead of Mihalich’s mark of 18. Cluess’ 124 MAAC wins in nine years is third-most all-time behind Mihalich’s 166 wins in 15 seasons and Jimmy Patsos’ 132 wins in 14 seasons during stints at Loyola Maryland and Siena.

    Iona’s 199 wins and .650 winning percentage in the Cluess-era were the highest among the 23 NCAA Division I schools in the New York Metropolitan area. The Maroon & Gold also appeared in more NCAA tournaments (6) and total postseason events (9) than any other team in the New York area.

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.