St. John’s fires basketball coach Mike Anderson but is Rick Pitino the right replacement? | amNewYork

St. John’s fires basketball coach Mike Anderson but is Rick Pitino the right replacement? | amNewYork

On Friday, St. John’s fired men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson just one day after the Red Storm blew a 14-point lead in an overtime loss to 6th-ranked Marquette in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

After the game, Anderson said his team would like to play in the NIT if invited and he would definitely like to be back at St. John’s. “Without a doubt. I look forward to this team, guys,” he said.

Unfortunately, he won’t get that chance as Associate head coach Van Macon will lead the program until a new coach is hired, the school said.

Despite the loss to Marquette, Anderson had just completed his fourth straight winning season at St. John’s and was named the Big East Coach of the Year two years ago. It was an honor that earned him a contract extension through the 2026-27 season; however, that wasn’t enough to keep his job.

Anderson was the 21st coach in school history and succeeded St. John’s great Chris Mullin at the helm. He went 68-56 during his four seasons, but St. John’s never made the NCAA Tournament in four years under Anderson, and their 18-15 record this season was well below expectations, including a disappointing 7-13 performance in the Big East, which saw them finish eighth in the conference standings.

The 2022-23 season got off to a good start with a 10-1 record in the nonconference schedule, but the Red Storm was a disappointment in Big East. They did post wins over UConn and Providence, who were both ranked at the time, but off-court drama seemed to sideline the season.  

Junior guard Andre Curbelo, a highly-regarded transfer from Illinois who led the team in assists, was suspended for one Big East game and benched for three others. He missed the final three games of the season while being in concussion protocol. Meanwhile, bench guard Rafael Pinzon, a high school teammate of Curbelo’s on Long Island, was suspended indefinitely and sat out the last six games of the season.

St. John’s has won at least one Big East Tournament game in six of the past seven years, but the loss to Marquette meant they still haven’t reached the semifinals since winning the championship in 2000. A distinction that proves more dubious since the Big East tournament is essentially a home game for St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. 

Anderson has never had a losing season in 21 years as a Division I head coach at UAB, Missouri, Arkansas, and St. John’s. He has a 437-256 record overall. Still, the decision to move on makes sense for the Red Storm, who have their eyes set on a bigger prize. 

Athletic director Mike Cragg announced the move in a news release, saying the school has begun a national search for a new coach to lead the program. “After fully evaluating the men’s basketball program, our University has decided a change is needed in both the leadership and direction of St. John’s Basketball,” Cragg said in the release. “We wish Coach Mike Anderson and his family the best in their future.”

Immediately after Anderson was fired, it was reported that St. John’s had already been looking at Rick Pitino as a possible replacement for weeks. 

The 70-year-old former Kentucky and Louisville coach has roots in the Big East and grew up on Long Island, not far from the St. John’s campus in Queens. But Pitino is also being coveted by others schools, notably Texas Tech, so his future at St. John’s is no sure thing, but even if he were to want the job, would he be the best candidate for it?

His success on the court is without question. Pitino is 834-292 in his career as a head coach, which is a winning percentage of .741. He’s 64-21 in his three seasons at Iona and has taken led them to two regular season titles and one conference tournament title (with another championship game on the way on Sunday). 

In his career, he has won two National Championships and been to seven Final Fours, but he’s also been mired in multiple scandals. 

The two most recent were in 2015 when Katrina Powell, a former escort, said she was paid by Louisville graduate assistant Andre McGee to hold parties and provide dances for Louisville recruits. Despite McGee being on Pitino;’s staff, Pitino claimed to know nothing about it. 

Then, in 2017 “An FBI investigation alleges that a coach from a public research university in Kentucky that matches the description of Louisville paid $100,000 to a basketball recruit’s family. The school later acknowledged that the school’s men’s basketball recruiting was part of the investigation.”

While Pitino denied knowledge of either accusation, he was suspended for five games in 2017 and Louisville was put on probation for four years. That was the last season he coached in Louisville before returning to the NCAA ranks three years later to coach Iona. 

Given the media intensity of New York City and the enormously high expectations that would come from bringing Pitino in, St. John’s has to be convinced there won’t be more off-court drama. Even one slip-up could make the hiring a catastrophic decision. 

For more St. John’s and college basketball coverage, visit amNY Sports

Rick Pitino coaches a game at Iona during the 2021-2022 season

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