ALBANY, N.Y. — Rick Pitino, Iona‘s 70-year-old Hall of Fame coach, sat at the dais in a place he was tremendously familiar with — the NCAA tournament — and said something that might surprise some people.
He would like to coach for another 10 years.
“Well, I’m physically fit and mentally I think I still have it,” Pitino said Thursday. “But my wife always says, ‘If you want to make God laugh, make a plan.’ I think you just take it one year at a time. Now, my desire would be to coach that long.
“Really, the two years I was out of coaching was really the most miserable two years of my life because I missed it so much because I love teaching, I love coaching, I love motivating — everything about it, I missed it terribly.”
Missing it is why Pitino coached in Greece at Panathinaikos before returning to college basketball — and to Iona. Pitino said he would love to coach as many as 12 more years, “but I’ll take six to seven.”
Where those years will be spent, however, is the question.
“My players — it’s not a distraction for them at all,” he said. “It’s really not a distraction. I really take it as a compliment.”
Pitino is 64-21 in three seasons and has two NCAA tournament appearances at Iona — the latest spot where he has had college success after three Final Fours and a national championship at Louisville, two Final Fours and a national title at Kentucky, and a Final Four at Providence.
Pitino praised what he has at Iona when asked whether he wanted to go to another rebuilding situation at this stage of his career.
“The thing you have to look at is my players don’t leave unless they just can’t play at this level,” he said. “They came for player development. They didn’t come for any other reason other than player development.
“And I’m sure Iona is going to have, in the future, NILs like everybody else. But I have a terrific team coming back — [Walter] Clayton [Jr.], Daniss [Jenkins], Nelly [Junior Joseph], Osborn [Shema] — four starters are returning, I have two or three guys coming off the bench.
“So that’s really important to me as well. I look at that as the No. 1 factor in my life. So to answer your question that would be honest, it’s going to take a special place for me to consider leaving.”
Pitino’s next chance coaching Iona comes Friday when the 13th-seeded Gaels face fourth-seeded UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament.