Name: Tim Cluess
Current job: Head Coach, Iona
Previous jobs: Head Coach LIU Post (Division II), Head Coach Suffolk Community College, Head Coach Saint Mary’s HS (Manhasset)
Career head coaching record (conference record): 199-108 (124-46)
NCAA Tournament Appearances (record): 6 (0-6)
Evidence of recruiting skills: Cluess finds talent that didn’t pan out at other programs and makes them into efficient scoring machines. Local four-year starter Rickey McGill has been steady and impressive as a point guard with swagger, AJ English was a star before that. Transfers like Jon Severe, David Laury and Sam Cassell have found new life under Cluess.
On court: The Iona Gaels are a clinic in floor spacing and shooting, maximizing possessions (few turnovers) and getting off open threes in bunches every single year. The Gaels have been a top-40 three-point shooting team in six of Cluess’ nine years in New Rochelle.
The Gaels rarely foul, frustrate opponents, and get better late in the season. Their pace is fast, even if at times the shot selection is not ideal. The Gaels figure out the game and put themselves in position to win.
Like their coach, the players exude confidence and know where they want to go.
Why he’d be a good fit: While we will not go as far as our friend Jaden Daly in touting Tim Cluess’ credentials, a real fact is that Cluess has won everywhere he has gone, which means something. He has a style of play that appeals to players and adjusts the style to squeeze out wins.
This year’s Iona team was likely the weakest one he has had, but still managed to play a high-octane style with a bench of one (sometimes two).
Cluess has a creative way of finding talent; he is willing to bring in players from overseas, transfers and some freshmen. His roster of second-chance players and JUCOs plays with a chip on their shoulder, they finish, and they play smart offense.
And consider that St. John’s has longed for a coach to make Queens a final destination for a coach, taking offense when Fran Fraschilla and Mike Jarvis flirted with other jobs. (One of the appeals of Norm Roberts was that he saw New York as home.) Cluess has not left the tri-state area at all — not for college, where he played at St. John’s and Hofstra, and not for his coaching career.
Cluess might need some adjustments in his recruiting strategy to build St. John’s into a consistent winner — or consistently land the best transfers and JUCOs — but his style and ability to teach would be a constant.
The Gaels have gotten 14 and 15 seeds in the NCAA Tournament in six of their nine seasons under Cluess, and competed with North Carolina in this tournament.
Why it wouldn’t work: Will the Iona style translate up? The offense might, but Iona’s defenses have consistently been in the bottom half of adjusted efficiency numbers. Iona plays fast, but often plays games where defense is cursory. The defensive and offensive rebounding numbers have not been great.
Another big issue is talent acquisition. Cluess’ teams have consistently had more mature talent than other programs in the MAAC.
Can he win without recruiting freshmen in the Big East? How many teams in the Big East (or other major conferences) have a rotation of junior college players? Rosters are made of four-year players for a reason — that is the talent that has a ceiling high enough to compete, and few high-level players seem to spend time at junior colleges in the last ten years. (LJ Figueroa may be an exception.)
In the MAAC, Cluess’ teams bludgeon the rest of the league with mature talent. Can he get to that spot consistently at St. John’s?
For those whom this matters to, Iona’s NCAA appearances, with the exception of the 2012 play-in game, have not been close affairs in the losses.
What’s getting in the way: There is supposedly some beef from either Tim Cluess or from Lou Carnesecca over Cluess’ time at St. John’s. In the late 70’s. That should be water under the bridge, it’s 40 years ago, but...
Final word: Probably not going to happen.