If Ed Cooley jumping from Providence to Georgetown wasn't enough, the Big East had a second landscape-shifting hire on Monday, with St. John's officially agreeing to a deal with Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino.
Pitino was the top target for the Red Storm from the outset, emerging as the favorite even before they fired Mike Anderson, and no other serious candidates ever emerged. Almost as soon as Pitino's Iona team lost to the UConn Huskies in the first round of the NCAA tournament, discussions progressed. Pitino met with St. John's officials on Sunday night, and the deal was done less than 24 hours later.
It's undeniably an enormous coup for the Johnnies, who were desperate for a big-name coach in an attempt to return to their glory days.
How does it impact Pitino's new school, his old school and the Big East as a whole? ESPN's Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Myron Medcalf dive in.
How well does Pitino fit in at St. John's?
One is tempted to venture that Hall of Fame coaches fit wherever they decide to go. Pitino has won national titles at Kentucky and Louisville. This makes him both the answer to a trivia question and a category unto himself. Pitino's the only coach to have done so at two different programs. While there was indeed a storm of controversy and a bit of a bookkeeping tussle over that second championship, the coach somehow did not lack for suitors in 2023. Pitino chose St. John's.
When Pitino made his debut as a head coach in the Big East in 1985, Ed Cooley was playing basketball at Providence Central High School. In other words, this is not the first rodeo for the new St. John's coach. The university would appear to be counting on Pitino to elevate the program as he begins nearing the presumed close of an already storied career. Pitino's a New York City native and Long Island product who's won in the old ECAC, the Big East, SEC, American, ACC and, most recently, the MAAC. St. John's considered all of the above and decided, yes, Rick Pitino fits in Queens. -- John Gasaway
St. John's names Rick Pitino new head men's basketball coach— St. John's Men's Basketball (@StJohnsBBall) March 20, 2023
🗞: https://t.co/nCE8KAUap5 pic.twitter.com/pyDqcoKEcr
What's next for Iona?
Iona has been a factory for high-level coaching talent and consistent success over the last 40-something years, dating back to Jim Valvano in the late 1970s. Pat Kennedy took over for Valvano when he left for NC State, going to two NCAA tournaments before leaving for Florida State. Tim Welsh jumped from Iona to Providence, while Jeff Ruland then led the Gaels to three NCAA tournament appearances. Kevin Willard was poached by Seton Hall, Tim Cluess went to six NCAA tournaments in nine seasons -- and then, of course, there's Pitino's three seasons at the helm. So Iona athletic director Matthew Glovaski will be able to pick from an attractive pool of candidates.
Two names that jump out are Fairleigh Dickinson's Tobin Anderson, everyone's NCAA tournament first-weekend darling, and Bryant's Jared Grasso, who was an assistant under Cluess for eight years at Iona before quickly flipping Bryant and going to the NCAA tournament last season. -- Jeff Borzello
How does this change the Big East landscape?
I mean, it gives St. John's a better opportunity to chase the same talent that's helped UConn and Villanova and all of those other East Coast schools, which should make the league more competitive. But I think it dramatically expands the recruiting footprint for St. John's, too. Pitino being back in a major conference will be enticing for a lot of young talent who are aware of his achievements. Plus, he might be the guy to convince a bunch of transfers to follow him to New York City. And if all of this happens, St. John's will have an opportunity to make a bigger impact in the years ahead. The change won't happen immediately. But Pitino always wins big, and he always leaves his mark. This won't be any different. -- Myron Medcalf