It’s 2 AM (when I wrote this) Eastern time, somehow. I’m still awake and the winds are whipping around New York, blowing a forgotten sheet on a clothesline until it's vertical.
On the flight in to the airport, my plane was rocking down to the runway, buffeted by winds. It’s the kind of windy that I normally associate with early or late season Mets games. Or the fall weather as you walked into Madison Square Garden during a good Knicks or St. John’s game, where the purpose of going inside was to shelter yourself from the real word for a couple of hours, and lose your voice to pretzels, beer, floor burns, and "DEE-FENSE."
And all types of people were in there, yelling for the city team in coarse voices, yelling at the refs with missing r’s (get out of "heah" versus get out of "here"), because New York basketball meant something. It felt like New York had an original claim to the game even though it was made by a Canadian.
The game defined our city athletically, spoke to our civic pride; NYC has the streetball tradition, the Public and Catholic School leagues, tough players with tough reputations, and all those good-ass players with the slick dribbles and bravado. The pride New York took in hoops was the feeling that used to make New York the place to watch basketball, the energy that made Madison Square Garden the supposedly "World’s Most Famous Arena."
The Knicks hardly have the pride and passion anymore. St. John’s Red Storm definitely don’t have it. Attendance is down to nearly at 5-6000 for big popular league matchups, games that used to draw 10000. The fans who come are either apathetic or cheering for the other team. The local news outlets don’t travel with the team. The Red Storm are an easy mark on the Big East schedule.
My fellow St. John’s fans—the die-hards, at least— have this idea that the program, though also in need of some structural adjustments, is in need of the biggest of big name coaches to take the job and domineer the athletic department into making those structural and physical changes the school needs to support Big East basketball.
The name in the forefront and the backfront of their minds… is John Calipari. The former U Mass coach, former New Jersey Nets coach, and current Memphis Tigers coach is well known to be a great recruiter with slick hair. And he has steered the U Mass team to the Final Four, and Memphis to a number 1 seed in the tournament. Meanwhile, St. John’s has 100 years of tradition, a more competitive conference, a market that would blow up John Calipari’s name and increase his marketing opportunities— basically, a chance to make Cal king of all basketball kings. And in a world of uncertainty and up-and-coming coaches, John Calipari seems to be a safe pick for consistent greatness.
But I have never though he would come here. Why not?* Why would he? I asked a Memphis blogger, Coach, at UofMTigers to speak on it.
He was kindly enough to write a smart, well-reasoned post (cross-posted here) on why Cal wouldn't leave his Memphis situation, and his annual runs at greatness, based on what we know from the man:
Is Cal Being Courted By St. John's? Is He Interested? No, But Read On........
Interestingly, I was recently contacted by a blogger who writes the http://theeastcoastbias.wordpress.com blog. He inquired as to whether I thought there was validity to John Calipari possibly leaving Memphis in the future to take the job at St. Johns.
These are my thoughts on the subject.
At least at this stage in the game, I can not see Cal leaving since he (most likely) feels he still has unfinished business at Memphis - namely, winning a national title. But, lets look forward a bit to possible outcomes to this year for the Tigers.
1) We all hope that Cal brings home the crown to Memphis. A Final Four appearance is clearly expected, anything less than that will be deemed a failure on the season. If Cal doesn't make it to the Final Four this year, I believe he will 100% come back.
2) Memphis advances to the Final Four or beyond. The season will be viewed as a success. Cal will have succeeded in taking his second non-BCS league team to a Final Four. As best I can tell from my research, that has NEVER been done.
So, the question is will Cal look for another chance to rebuild a program?
We know that Cal was seriously approached last year by Arkansas and Kentucky. He reportedly never really considered either, and why would he with the Tiger team he had coming back (you know the #1 ranked Tigers who are 20-0)?
We also know that was very seriously approached and publicly courted by North Carolina State after the '05-'06 season. Cal turned down the Wolfpack, but got a sizable raise at Memphis and some assurances that assistant coaches would be taken care of.
However, we also know Cal probably looked at NC State and said this isn't 1974 and I don't have David Thompson. Also it isn't 1983 and I do have a shot clock to deal with (sorry Jimmy V, you didn't win with better talent, just better game time coaching). Can NC State really compete with Carolina and Duke these days? Did Cal say I don't want to go up against Roy Williams and Coach K four times a year. IMO, Probably.
So, what about St. John's?
NYC is the greatest stage in the land, but it isn't the greatest college basketball stage. Sure, St. John's has some tradition. But it isn't Carolina, UCLA, Kansas, Indiana, Duke or Kentucky. New York is a pro sports market. I've been to MSG for a tournament when St. John's was really good. The place was half full in a city metro with 8.2 million bodies. Gee, Memphis averages 16K with only 1.2 million in the metro. Cal has already experienced the New York media market as head coach of the Nets in the NBA. I don't think he has the best memories of the experience. Sure $15 million over five years probably made him get over it, but why subject yourself to that again? Can St. John's afford Cal? Yes, I'm sure they can. If Memphis can, then St. John's can - probably several times over.
Cal does have a big $2.5 million annuity payment coming his way in about two years. That on top of his annual salary of $1.3 million (or up to $1.7 million with incentives - most of which he will qualify for this year) is a nice package to stay around for.
Has anyone really looked at the cost of living in Memphis relative to New York City? Manhattan is just under a double, Queens not as bad, but clearly a big cost adjustment to little ole Memphis, with no state income tax and very affordable housing.
But let's just say this is not about the money (really if it was about the money, Cal would have most likely taken the Kentucky post).
Is St. John's a better job than Memphis. Well, playing in the Big East is clearly more impressive than C-USA, but a lot more competitive to boot. Frankly, I'd rather have the UConn or Georgetown job considering their histories.
Don't get me wrong, I think St. John's is a good job. It would easily place in the Top 50 jobs in D1 basketball. Recruiting is a lot easier. You can field a top 20 team and never have to miss a home cooked meal.
Memphis has a lot to offer too. The FedEx Forum is a top 25 facility, the Larry Finch practice facility is also top 25. Playing in C-USA, while not impressive, does afford Cal the chance to play the top non-conference schedule (i.e. Arizona, Gonzaga, UConn, Georgetown, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas).
Cal is pretty darn popular also. The networks love him. He is a regular guest on the Best Damn Sports Show. He could run for mayor in Memphis (though former Memphis Grizzlies and Dukie Shane Battier would beat him out even now).
Ok, enough on this. So, in conclusion, will Cal leave Memphis? Maybe, but not for the Red Storm. Maybe Chuck Martin will go back to Queens.
Once again, thanks for that response. To paraphrase: Dean Smith is not coming through that door. John Calipari is not coming through that door. Tom Izzo is not coming through that door. Cal might make this team relevant, but Cal is also the longest of longshots if St. John’s makes a coaching change.
*(There is also that nasty little rumor that Calipari mentioned, while on the recruiting trail in the late ‘80s, that St. John’s coach and current emeritus basketball coach/ fan Lou Carnesecca was dying of cancer.)