St. John's is one of college basketball's most storied, winningest men's programs. One of the hallowed names in college basketball - even without an NCAA championship. The former Redmen (now Red Storm) have 6 NIT championships, 2 Final Four Appearances, a number of renowned players such as Joe Lapchick, Dick McGuire, Mark Jackson, Chris Mullin, Walter Berry, and a coach in Lou Carnesecca who wore a sweater very well.
St. John's is New York, St. John's is old school, St. John's is the local boy playing tough and making good.
All of that winningness is in stark contrast to the last 8 or so years. There was an NIT championship, true, but simmering issues between then-coach Mike Jarvis and the administration culminating in a midseason firing; a strip-club incident; a complete and thorough overreaction from an administration who wanted to clean house of Jarvis' louses including a rumor that they might suspend the St. John's basketball program (for a hooker? Really?); leaving the Red Storm program decimated, looking for its way, stumbling...
Into the breach St. John's brought in coach Norm Roberts, an assistant with Bill Self's Kansas program.
He had been a head coach on the Division II level at Queens College, and had a 24-84 record. But he was known to have a tireless work ethic and was a New York guy from my neck of the woods - Laurelton/ Springfield Gardens. Unfortunately, his teams have not excelled on the court - his teams are 60-80 overall and 23-57 in the Big East. That's a tough record, and continues his poor record at Queens College.
And between a lack of recent success, some changes in the monetary stipend the team gives out, and the poor coaching, the articles now talk about the Fall of St. John's, lamenting old times that haven't been around for 20 years. Even piss poor writers for conservative blogs who have stripper names (how is S.E. Cupp not a stripper name?!) can only see the past of St. John's, for the present is terribly ugly. [read more after the jump.]
What is the future? Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis recently pointed out a fact in his hoop thoughts - these are tough economic times:
I keep hearing that the down economy is going to save a lot of coaches' jobs. At a time when schools are slashing budgets and laying off teachers, it's harder to justify paying an expensive buyout to get rid of one coach, and then forking over an even bigger salary to hire the next one.
That is a good point; will St. John's even fire their coach, even with the woeful results? It has been a hard set of years. Consider:
- The current class of sophomores are the whole team; after a JUCO recruit joins next fall, 9 of the 13 scholarships will be for players who leave in the spring of 2011.
- The offensive efficiency numbers remain woeful, so even when they become juniors and seniors, there won't be very much actual improvement.
- Recruits won't come in the face of this recruiting job.
- Recruits are going to the schools with the big recent traditions, the big name coaches, and St. John's has not shown a willingness to pay through the nose for that kind of name.
- The facilities - and perhaps the money for those facilities - don't match those of a state school.
- Attendance is low.
So for all those who point to a new coach as an answer - whether it's a guy who seems to be an arm length away from something shady like John Calipari, a non-recruiting old-school guy who hasn't won much in years and might drive top talent away from the school like Bob Knight, or some guy with locoal connections, there is more damage than just the coaching itself.
And if the New York talent market is so good, how come none of the other local schools is doing very well? How come Rutgers is still a poor program (of course, it's only recently that they have had any sport success, and their recruiting HAS improved)?
What kind of coach would come in to "save" this program? Do coaches value the talent pool so highly that they would face an uphill climb against multiple Hall of Fame coaches in Calhoun, Boeheim, Pitino, and the like? Is it correct to compare this program to its past, when the university that surrounds it is a local school in the hard-hit financial capital of the world? Is this program closer to Villanova or is it closer to DePaul, a program that has some history but has recently fallen on destitute times?
Last year, Providence College was summarily dissed by a number of candidates - including current Oklahoma State and then U Massachussetts coach Travis Ford and current George Mason coach Jim Larranaga - before getting Keno Davis to sign a $1 million/ year contract.
Two important things - the Friars are another Catholic school program in the Big East, but they could not lure their first few choices to coach the team, which had returning senior talent and some offensive skill. St. John's has some returning talent (thought the recruiting is a little bottlenecked by the number of juniors on the roster). And they are also in the Big East. Is there a fear of how quickly the fans will turn when they don't see results, in a league with 8 great programs and 8 other programs who want to be great? Or of recruiting against those school franchises that already have inroads to the good recruits?
The second thing is $1 million per year. Is a school like St. John's willing to spend that kind of money in these tough times? Are boosters there to help sweeten the deal?
These are tough money times. One can make the argument that a coach is an investment, that ticket sales bring on advertising, revenue, interest, applications. Those things are very true. But are they true to the tune of over a million dollars, WHILE in a very critical market for coaches? They say opinions are like a-holes, everybody's got one; New York might be filled with butt cheeks. There are a lot of coaches who would like to have the exposure, but are they willing to take a publicized risk to their ego?
I say yes... but the list of coaches who want to be in New York might be smaller than one thinks.