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St. John's basketball: Norm Roberts Being "Evaluated" - Hot Seat?

News came yesterday with the 65-48 win over South Florida - the president of St. John's University attended a basketball game! This is not news in other schools, of course. And it's not necessarily news when other presidents don't attend their school's ball games.

In this case, Father Harrington's appearance sparks interest - he's rumored to be the big decision-maker when it comes to the basketball program, and is thought to have override power over the Athletic Director, Chris Monasch, who gave some comments in today's paper about how a late season surge - i.e., the final tally of wins and losses - will not be the only/ determining factor on Norm Roberts' future (more on that later).

Note that all of these statements fall short of even the dreaded "vote of confidence."

The Daily News and New York Post both got quotes from Fr. Harrington, but came out with two different headlines, with strong meaning for the St. John's coaching staff (pictured below, photo courtesy of Red Storm

St. John's Red Storm coaching staff


Roberts is in the final year of his original five-year deal. Although the contract contains an automatic rollover, that clause is about as valuable as Citicorp stock because the administration refuses to give him a clear vote of confidence. Father Donald J. Harrington, the man who hired Roberts, went so far as to say at halftime of today's win that he was disappointed with the results on the court.

"It's very important,'' Harrington said in regards to the success of the program. "I'm the first one to say it's very important. I'm disappointed yes, like anyone else is.''

"I'd love to be at the top of the Big East,'' he added. "But these are complex things. It's a big conference. It's a tough conference. We'll keep doing our best.''

A highly placed university source told The Post that the administration absolutely wants to retain Roberts, who has restored the program's integrity, but might have to make a move if the bottom falls out in the final 10 games and Big East Conference Tournament.

Roberts, who took over a decimated program on the verge of NCAA penalty, is 60-76 overall and 23-52 in Big East play. He said he spoke to Harrington as recently as about two weeks ago at a board of directors meeting and that the university president was 100-percent supportive.

And the Daily News: St. John's president happy with Norm Roberts' progress with Red Storm:

The sex scandal is all but forgotten. There are no more under-the-table payments to players. The Rev. Donald J. Harrington, president of St. John's University, showers praise on coach Norm Roberts for cleaning up his basketball program and bringing in respectable, academically responsible players.

But he cannot deny that something is missing: the winning.

When asked Sunday about the importance of again being a force in the Big East, Harrington said: "It's very important. I'm the first one to say it's very important. I'm disappointed like anyone else is. I'd love to be at the top of the Big East. But these are complex things. It's a big conference. It's a tough conference. We'll keep doing our best." ...

Whether Harrington's disappointment could ultimately cost Roberts his job remains to be seen. Sunday's 65-48 victory over South Florida put St. John's at 12-9, already over last season's win total.

But is a winning record at season's end essential?

"Honestly, that's not something I evaluate every day," Harrington said. "We'll see how the season goes like we did last year and at the end of the whole season we'll sit down with (AD) Chris Monasch and evaluate him. ... When we sit down and do a comprehensive evaluation, all of that will be on the table.

"Norm Roberts is our coach right now and I'd love to see him be our coach for a long, long time because he's a guy who embodies what we're about as a university. But at the same time Chris is our AD and it's much more complex and he has to put all things together. I'll see what he has to say about that."

Monasch usually attends every Red Storm game, but he was at the Super Bowl Sunday.

Harrington gave the interview at halftime at Carnesecca Arena, which again was barely half-full. He wants the program to be popular enough to sell out the way it used to. He said alumni have reacted with "a broad spectrum of satisfaction and dissatisfaction" and added "some are very pleased with the man that Norm is and ... some would like to see us win every game." But he said revenue generation was the program's least important role compared with national image and school spirit.

Roberts has cultivated a family atmosphere on the team and most players asked Sunday said they "love playing for him."

So to recap:

+ The St. John's president feels that revenue generation is less important than school spirit and national image (but no one is at the games, and folks forget St. John's exists; though the team is scandal-free which is a huge plus.

+ He is disappointed, and came out and said so, but understands that the conference is tough - he lists no timelines or competitiveness metrics. But the fact that the silent man has come out to say he is "disappointed" does add a level of UH-OH to Norm Roberts' tenure. Note that Fr. Harrington passes the buck to Monsach on the decision... making the AD the relative bad guy here, the way it should be.

+ A "highly placed source" says the school wants to keep Norm Roberts, mostly on the integrity metric... but it seems that they should try hard not to suck in the final 10 games. It is very easy to come out and say the coach will definitely be here next year, even if, say, an 0-16 Big East record was in the process of happening...

Chris Monasch responds in today's paper, reiterating the "second half of conference season" bit, expecting to be in every game with a "good chance of competing to win (a few too many qualifiers there! Any team has a chance of competing to win, even NJIT!). But Monsach's words in today's Daily News:


...athletic director Chris Monasch said Monday a decision doesn't hang on the results of the next 10 games and the Red Storm's performance in the Big East Tournament.

"It matters but it won't be the determining factor by any means," Monasch told the Daily News. "There are a lot of factors. For example we know he has signed two good players for next year."

"I am very optimistic about the second half of (the conference) season," he added. "For the most part we should be in (every) game with a good chance of competing to win."

Do the Johnnies (12-9, 3-6) have to reach a certain number of wins to save Roberts? "We will evaluate everything when the season is over, take everything into account," Monasch said. "It shouldn't be done in the middle of the season."

Roberts took over St. John's at its low point and was given a five-year contract. The administration credits him for running a clean program with respectable players and last season gave him a rolling five-year deal that includes a small buyout if it wishes to go in a different direction.

"When we did that, our intention was to have a long-term relationship with Norm," Monasch said. "It is still our intention."