Sources: Pitino in serious discussions to be St. John's coach

Iona's Rick Pitino met with St. John's officials Sunday, and the sides remain in serious discussions about him becoming the school's next men's basketball coach, sources told ESPN.

Some clarity from Pitino is expected early this week, as he has been the school's primary target since it fired Mike Anderson on March 10. Nothing has changed for St. John's, which needed to wait for Iona to lose in the NCAA tournament before it could begin formal discussions.

The meeting with St. John's on Sunday served as a way for the sides to get to know each other more formally, and the meeting was viewed as productive, sources told ESPN.

Pitino, 70, laid out his vision for the program to St. John's officials, a source told ESPN. Pitino engaged with St. John's officials about the school's commitment, as sources said he would be taking the job with the intention to compete for Big East championships and the national title. That will require significant support both for the program and in the name, image and likeness space. And both sides chatted about what's needed for the program going forward.

During the NCAA tournament in Albany, New York, Pitino essentially acknowledged that he'd have the chance to be the coach at St. John's. He even hinted in his news conference at the timeline that has unfolded, as he told a story that he hadn't been to the school since 1987 when Providence College won a game there on a controversial call. Pitino joked that he told then-Friars star Billy Donovan to jump in the shower with his shoes on so Providence didn't have to come back on the court to play the final second.

"That was the last thing I remember about being at St. John's," he said. "That was 1987, guys. 1987. So, I don't remember too much about it, to tell you the truth, to be perfectly transparent.

"You don't buy houses without looking at the garage and the upstairs and the kitchen and everything. You don't just buy a house."

Sunday marked Pitino's chance to look at the house and see the school's plan going forward. For St. John's, it would bring the program the most decorated coach since Lou Carnesecca stepped down in 1992. Pitino is a Hall of Fame coach who has been to seven Final Fours with three different programs.

St. John's has been to two Final Fours in its history and reached just three NCAA tournaments since 2002. Pitino has won two national titles, at Kentucky and Louisville, and coached in 23 NCAA tournaments.

Over that span since 2002, St. John's has churned through Mike Jarvis, Norm Roberts, Steve Lavin, Chris Mullin and Anderson as head coaches.

Pitino is from New York and he coached with the Knicks as both an assistant under Hubie Brown and as the franchise's head coach from 1987 to 1989. His return to the city would immediately kick-start the school's relevance in the local sports scene, which had faded in recent years.

Both Pitino's career and the St. John's program appear to be intersecting at a time when they need each other. Louisville fired Pitino in October 2017 following an FBI investigation into college basketball, which eventually led to a job in Greece prior to taking the Iona job in 2020.

The Cardinals were linked to the investigation through allegations that Adidas paid $100,000 to the family of five-star prospect Brian Bowen to steer him to Louisville. Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were both fired for cause.

The NCAA spared Pitino of any punishment when the independent resolution panel announced its penalties against Louisville last November.

"I had to wait five years for them to basically stall my career out to finally get exonerated," Pitino said Saturday. "I was exonerated by an impartial committee made up of legal people, legal people, not ADs and not people ... they handpick. So for five years they put me in the outhouse because they couldn't get their stuff together.

"So it's just the breaks of the game. You can't look back. The past, it's always cherished. You learn from it, you cherish the past. I've been to seven Final Fours, two championships, and I cherish that. I also learn from the mistakes that were made."