Five years at the helm of a St. John's basketball program that enjoyed an odd mix of success coupled with troubling missteps off the court and a dearth of postseason wins ended Friday for Steve Lavin when the school announced they had "mutually agreed to part ways."
Plans to undertake a "national search" for Lavin's successor immediately zeroed in on St. John's all-time leading scorer Chris Mullin as the top candidate. Multiple sources contacted by Newsday agreed the two-time Olympian and star of the 1985 Final Four team likely can have the job if he wants it and that there is a firm plan to reach out to him.
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Certainly, a Mullin hire would make an even bigger splash than when athletic director Chris Monasch lured Lavin away from ESPN in 2010 to replace Norm Roberts and lift St. John's out of the doldrums.
"Coach Lavin returned high expectations to our men's basketball program and represented St. John's in a positive way," Monasch said in a statement. "He infused excitement back into the program."
Without a doubt, the former UCLA coach raised St. John's profile with three 20-win seasons, NCAA Tournament appearances in 2011 and 2015 and NIT bids in 2013 and 2014. Lavin had an 81-55 record with the Red Storm, including 40-32 in Big East play. That includes only four games in the 2011-12 season, when he underwent successful treatment for prostate cancer.
Lavin did not respond to Newsday's attempts to contact him but said in the statement: "In life, change is inevitable, so I take the long view. I'm grateful for my time teaching at St. John's University. I'm proud of our results both on and off the court."
Despite demonstrable progress under Lavin, the debate within the administration and among prominent athletic supporters about the level of success achieved in both those areas ultimately led to the decision to let him go with one year remaining on his contract.
Lavin had a 2-9 postseason record, and after his highly touted recruiting class of 2011 lost its Big East Tournament opener for the fourth straight year this season, he said, "I don't think it's them. I'm a poor conference tournament coach."
Although Lavin brought in several high-profile recruits, he experienced recurring problems with non-qualifiers. That highly rated 2011 class had nine recruits, but three did not qualify academically. Before this season, incoming big men Adonis De La Rosa and Keith Thomas were declared ineligible.
Those issues were said to be front and center in the administration of first-year St. John's president Conrado "Bobby" Gempesaw. It's expected that the school will move quickly to name a replacement, but Lavin's successor will be greeted by a cupboard that is almost bare.
Five seniors are graduating, and regulars Rysheed Jordan and Chris Obekpa, who was suspended for the NCAA Tournament because of a violation of team rules and school policy, are uncertain to return. Lavin had signed only three recruits, including top 50 prospect Brandon Sampson, but they now will consider de-committing depending on the choice of coach.
If Mullin decides not to put his Hall of Fame credentials on the line, Rhode Island's Danny Hurley, Buffalo's Bobby Hurley (his brother), Manhattan's Steve Masiello and Iona's Tim Cluess, who recently signed an extension, are desirable candidates. Former St. John's player Mark Jackson might get in the mix.