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So much dumpster fire at St. John’s

Different agendas when it comes to hiring a head coach is why St. John's can't get it right in hiring a head coach that can takes it basketball program to great heights.

If anyone wonders why St. John’s has been irrelevant in basketball and other athletics over the years, look back at the basketball coaching search by the university.

St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg zeroed in on hiring Iona head coach Tim Cluess, but the board of trustees, St. John’s president Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw and St. John’s vice president Joe Oliva showed zero interest in being on board when it comes to hiring him.

When everyone has an agenda on who to hire as St. John’s head coach, this becomes a problem.

St. John’s hired Cragg to make basketball decisions, so why does Gempesaw, Oliva and others should have their say? Technically, Cragg reports to them and those guys sign off on the hiring. But the athletic director and the head coach must work together. It does not make sense to hire a head coach that the athletic director does not want. Think of it as a sports owner hiring a head coach or a manager despite the general manager’s wishes. That never ends well, and the manager or head coach could go above the general manager and air his grievances with the owner. That would be the case with St. John’s next head coach if it’s not the athletic director’s hire.


If Cragg can’t be the one that hires the head coach, he should offer his resignation as the athletic director right now. He did not leave Duke just so he can be a figurehead to Gempesaw and Oliva. We call this a demotion.

Only Cragg knows what he got himself into with this mess. St. John’s blindsided him by rejecting a coaching choice he made. Whoever St. John’s hires as the next head coach, the perception would be this was not his hire.

Oliva, Gempesaw and the Board of Trustees decided on hiring Loyola-Chicago head coach Porter Moser until he spurned them. He clearly had reservations about taking the job being that Cragg did not hire him and he knew this would not work if Cragg and him can’t work together. Plus, Moser understood the local media and St. John’s fans does not think much of him as the hire, so he figured it would be a waste of his time to work there.

This is St. John’s head coaching process in a nutshell.

The athletic director hires a head coach that his bosses don’t want, and the coach that his bosses want does not want to be there knowing he is not the athletic director’s guy. We call this bad optics for everyone involved. This can be best described as a dumpster fire.

Whoever St. John’s hire, that head coach will not be in a no-win position. He is not what St. John’s fans want. Only coach that would have received approval is Cluess because of his ties in the metropolitan area, not to mention he recruits, develops and wins. He would have been a difference maker at St. John’s.

Instead, he declined to take the job knowing that he was not the university’s choice, not to mention he wanted no part of this mess when he has it good at Iona.

A shame St. John’s messed this up. I covered Cluess couple of times for this fine site when the Siena Saints would play the Iona Gaels at New Rochelle. I find him to be engaging and honest. He knows the game well. He produces great guards through coaching and development. His teams give quality effort almost every game. It’s not an accident Iona is a four-time defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion. His teams get better and better as the season progress, and a good example of that happened this past season when Iona got off to a rough start just to figure it out in late February and March by winning 10 in a row, including the MAAC championship to go to the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season.

Cluess would have competed well against Jay Wright, Kevin Willard, Ed Cooney, Greg McDermott, Patrick Ewing and Steve Wojciechowski when it comes to recruiting and coaching.

We are not talking about a coach that has preconceived agendas like the disgraced Bobby Gonzalez. Cluess’ ambition is to win at St. John’s. He played for that school even though he transferred to Hofstra. He knows what it’s like to win in New York, and he would have taken coaching St. John’s seriously. He gets New York.

This should have been a no-brainer, but we are talking St. John’s here. The powers-to-be act smarter than all of us never mind the university hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2000. They set parameters on who to hire based on their clean-cut image, not to mention hiring someone on the cheap. Why else was Chris Mullin hired in the first place?

In the end, Mullin found out how dysfunctional St. John’s is for him to quit before Cragg fired him. Not even Gempesaw and Oliva saved him, and they hired him. With friends like that, who need enemies?

When things go bad, the higher-ups can’t be giving up on the head coach and make another change. This is not to say Mullin deserves to be defended. He wasn’t qualified to coach St. John’s in the first place. The point being coaches, athletic director and the powers-to-be must be aligned together for the program to achieve success.

St. John’s fails to get it. It never learn from its mistakes time after time, and this coaching search exemplifies everything that is so bad and wrong about the university.

Oh, and Cragg will bail soon enough.

Not only Gempesaw and Oliva are begging for anyone to take the coaching job, but they will have to find an athletic director that is stupid enough to work for them. It says something St. John’s hired three different athletic directors in recent years.

Good luck to all that.

Fortunately, it’s not Cluess’ and Mullin’s problem. It won’t be Cragg’s problem, too.

Too bad for anyone that actually cares about St. John’s athletics.

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