Five years ago, Steve Lavin was hired by St. John’s to lead the once prominent Big East program back to national relevance. According to the school, he failed.
Lavin and the Red Storm announced today that the two have “mutually” agreed to part ways. Lavin, who won more than 80 games in his five seasons, led SJU to two NCAA tournaments and one NIT appearance, and was tasked with a multi-tiered mission when he was hired away from ESPN.
This was the first big hire by athletic director Chris Monasch — according to longtime Monasch confidante, “People will remember Chris Monasch on this hire” — who set goals that included making the postseason, revive the cobweb-covered pipeline that once delivered blue chip prospects to Queens, and don’t embarrass the program.
Lavin’s initial two seasons couldn’t have fit any more seamlessly with Monasch’s vision. St. John’s made the NCAA tournament (albeit, it must be said, with Norm Roberts’ players) and promptly signed a top 100-laden recruiting class. The next three seasons didn’t compare, but Lavin still brought in top ranked players, like Chris Obekpa and Rysheed Jordan, and not only cracked the national polls but made a second NCAA tournament.
This move by the administration should have been obvious after reports of an extension last spring were tabled when the squad’s supernova February was undercut by a first-round loss in the Big East tournament (and then being bounced by Robert Morris in the NIT). The extension would never come, which Lavin likely knew during the press conference following the first round NCAA tournament loss to San Diego State. Lavin oozes energy and positivity — anything approaching a negative thought doesn’t have a place in the coach’s lobes — but Lavin was downbeat.
What happened next could only occur in New York City. Reports of an extension were raised, then countered with reports he would be fired, all at the same time that reports circled of Lavin meeting with (or seen walking into the office of) president Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw. In the end, the guarantee of security, both financial and years-wise, outweighed bringing Lavin back.
The program is in much better stead than when Lavin first arrived in Queens. The team had three seasons of postseason play and now has a recruiting profile that isn’t NYC-centric, one that stretches from Louisiana to Texas and California, but the cupboard will be very sparse for the next coach — SJU loses a quartet of starters, and could potentially lose Jordan and Obekpa.
Speaking of, who follows Lavin? As pointed out by Big Apple Buckets’ Ryan Restivo:
You always keep that list of candidates in case something happens, it just appears someone photocopied it 1,000 times for St John’s
— Ryan Restivo (@ryanarestivo) March 27, 2015
And that list is as follows: Danny Hurley, Bobby Hurley, Steve Masiello, Richard Pitino, Rick Pitino, and (maybe, if Monasch and Co. want an outside but smart hire) Michael White.
There will be more information filtering out within the coming days, but this time five years ago, St. John’s faced a much dire and depressing rebuild. Lavin’s work made what comes next a little more palpable.