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St. John's blew it on Paul Hewitt

Paul Hewitt (Mar. 19, 2010)

Paul Hewitt (Mar. 19, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

This was the danger St. John's athletic director Chris Monasch faced when he fired Norm Roberts. If he didn't already have a bird in the hand, then, what made him think St. John's would be an easy sell to a top-of-the-line coach?

So far, Monasch and Rev. Donald Harrington, the university president, are 0-for-2, having been turned down by Florida's Billy Donovan and Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt. In the first instance, they didn't have enough money to even match Donovan's $3.5 million salary and simply hoped the idea of coaching in New York would be a big lure. In the second, well, they jumped the gun, spreading the news without making sure Hewitt's family was on board.

This is the second time Hewitt has jilted Harrington, who went after the Westbury native back in 2004 after Georgia Tech made the Final Four. The fact Hewitt was on shaky ground in Atlanta six years later was too much of a temptation for the St. John's president to resist. So, Monasch went after him again and apparently got close to a deal before Hewitt's family let him know they preferred to stay in Atlanta, especially since his ironclad contract meant Tech would have to pay $7 million to fire him.

Kudos to Newsday's Steve Marcus, who has been covering the story, for keeping the concerns of Hewitt's family members front and center and refusing to join the stampede to proclaim it a "done deal."

Now, Monasch and Harrington have something of a mess on their hands, but up in the Bronx, Fordham has Tom Pecora locked up and already introduced as the new face of their basketball program. Score one for the Rams.

They landed a coach who would have jumped at the chance to head the Red Storm and had the recruiting chops in New York to get the job done. Had Pecora moved up to St. John's, his contacts would have helped steer Big East-caliber talent there.

But Pecora understood Harrington's infatuation with Hewitt, so, when he was ready to leave Hofstra for a place that gave him a better chance to make the NCAA tournament, even one as far down as Fordham is after a winless Atlantic-10 season, Pecora grabbed it.

Monasch and Harrington thus were left holding the bag. Reportedly, they have contacted Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, and under the circumstances, it wouldn't be surprising to see them move quickly to clean up the mess. Maybe Greenberg has what they're looking for. Maybe not. Why didn't he schedule well enough this season to put the Hokies into the NCAA tournament instead of on the bubble?

Siena's Fran McCaffrey would be a palatable alternative. Seton Hall wants him but doesn't want to pay more than what he's making now. St. John's apparently has the money to land him, and while some consider McCaffrey a Philadelphia guy, his roster shows he's recruited plenty of New York kids.

The list of potential candidates includes two Ivy League coaches, Cornell's Steve Donahue and Harvard's Tommy Amaker. Careful. Donahue lost for six years in Ithaca before putting together this one class that has carried him to a Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky tonight in the Carrier Dome, and he's been an Ivy Leaguer the past 20 years.

Amaker had his Big East shot at Seton Hall. He was .500 or better in conference play once in four seasons, reaching the Sweet 16 and making the NIT three times. It's a better record than Roberts had for sure. However, it's tempered by six seasons at Michigan, where he was above .500 in Big Ten play only once, making the Sweet 16.

Maybe Monasch and Harrington should take this chance to explore outside the box and investigate UNLV coach Lon Kruger's interest in the job. He's taken four schools to the NCAA -- Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV -- and enjoyed New York in one season as a Knicks assistant. He's recruited and won all over the map.

St. John's could -- and has -- done a lot worse.


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