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Report: Chris Mullin to step down as coach of St. John’s

Is Bobby Hurley of Arizona State next?

Wendell Cruz

A couple of weeks of chatter and drama have culminated in the end of the Chris Mullin era, if sources are true.

What seemed to be a tense relationship between St. John’s best all-time player, Chris Mullin, and newly-hired Athletic Director Mike Cragg has boiled into St. John’s finding the money to buy out Chris Mullin after his fourth season, one where he made the NCAA Tournament.

Mullin is 59-73 at St. John’s as head coach overall and 20-52 in Big East play.

With five NCAA Tournament appearances and one win in 20 seasons since the turn of the century, the Red Storm tapped Mullin to come in as another savior for a program that had not enjoyed sustained success since the late 1990s. Mullin came to campus without any on-court coaching experience, but planned to hire a strong staff, recruit and develop players to create a consistent effort.

Four seasons later, he has had modest success in making Shamorie Ponds more dangerous, helped shape some solid transfers, but has struggled at player retention, bringing in high school players, and the teams have been inconsistent.

Assuming this is true, St. John’s dumps a coach coming off of an NCAA Tournament appearance, this time in the First Four against Arizona State. No, those appearances are not the be-all, end-all, but once again the search begins at an awkward time.

And with the school’s most famous player leaving with a likely bitter taste in his mouth.

What’s next?

This time, will St. John’s anoint a savior in February again? Or will they go through a reasoned process, compare coaches, let them pitch their plan and connections, and evaluate their coaching merits?

Because Mullin had no coaching experience. Because Steve Lavin was known to have struggled to meet expectations at UCLA (and perhaps recruit less energetically at the end). Because Norm Roberts had a terrible head coaching record, but was thought to be a good, moral local guy.

St. John’s needs to get one of these searches a little more right. And find a balanced, hardworking staff that connects with players.

To his credit, Chris Mullin leaves an intriguing roster — Mustapha Heron, Justin Simon and LJ Figueroa are experienced and can play; Ian Steere and Josh Roberts have athleticism and size; Marcellus Earlington and David Caraher are intriguing scorers; Greg Williams Jr. is a solid athlete. Valdir Manuel, Sedee Keita and Bryan Trimble Jr. all have some potential.

Whichever coach steps in to this team, provided that coach can bring in a player or two, and keep the defections to a minimum, could hit the ground running instead of looking for stopgap players to field a team (as Mullin did when he arrived).

Oregon v Arizona State Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Arizona State’s Bobby Hurley has been rumored as a candidate for months. Given his connections to the NY media personalities, he likely has some interest to have his name be consistently mentioned.

Hurley, a former Duke player (where Mike Cragg was assistant Athletic Director), has coached at Buffalo for two successful years and at Arizona State, compiling a combined 115-78 record.

After a pair of losing seasons that saw Hurley possibly on thin ice, the Sun Devils coach has bounced back with back-to-back appearances in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. Last year’s ASU team was ranked as high as #3 before faltering late, losing six of seven, but ending up in the tournament on the strength of non-conference wins (kind of like St. John’s this season). Still, he recruits well and may find new life at St. John’s, closer to home.

Fans like the idea of Rick Pitino. Real talk: given the bribes, escorts and “15 seconds”, Pitino is likely too morally challenged to be the coach at St. John’s, still a Catholic school. (Arizona State might be a better cultural fit.) Still, Pitino’s name has bounced around enough that we will keep track of strong rumors.

Tim Cluess is a name some will find interest in, though his teams’ defenses and recruiting styles will raise questions about how he would fare in the Big East. He has been successful everywhere he’s been, is a local guy and former St. John’s player, and his teams have been in the MAAC title game eight out of the last nine seasons.

The Rumble will cover the announcements and changes as they come.