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St. John's fires Roberts, will look for big-name coach

St. John's coach Norm Roberts hangs his head

St. John's coach Norm Roberts hangs his head near the end of his team's 57-55 loss to Marquette in the Big East Tournament on Wednesday. (Mar. 10, 2010) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

St. John's is thinking big. The university is prepared to pay what it costs to hire a top-tier college basketball coach to replace Norm Roberts, whom St. John's officials praised Friday after firing him Thursday night.

Athletic director Chris Monasch, who met with Roberts and his representative Thursday, said the coach "restored integrity" to the Red Storm program during his six seasons. He arrived after a messy ending to Mike Jarvis' tenure, which resulted in an NCAA investigation, probation and forfeiture of scholarships.

"The job is clearly a better job today than it was seven years ago," Monasch said, saluting Roberts while implying the job - in the intensely competitive Big East - had outgrown him.

Roberts never made it to the NCAA Tournament and finished this season at 17-16. In his final game, St. John's lost to Memphis, 73-71, on a layup at the buzzer in the first round of the NIT Wednesday night.

St. John's is prepared to make a financial commitment like those that have been given to the 25 highest-paid coaches in the country, Monasch said.

"St. John's has always been committed to competing in the Big East, on the highest level of Division I basketball. We understand what the financial terrain is at this level to be competitive," he said during a news conference on campus Friday afternoon.

"We have an enormous upside, revenue-wise. We play games at Madison Square Garden with large attendance, and television opportunities. So we will evaluate who our coaching options are and pay them accordingly."

That opens the door to possibilities such as Florida coach Billy Donovan (Rockville Centre, St. Agnes High School) and Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg (Plainview).

Monasch studiously avoided mentioning any names. But he tacitly acknowledged that the Red Storm needs a big-name coach because the name "St. John's" itself isn't the draw it used to be.

He would not rule out a coach from a mid-major but made it clear that his list of criteria starts with at least one big-time head-coaching job on the candidate's resume.

"Ideally, we would love to find a coach who has experienced significant success at the BCS level, the Big East level," he said, referring to the major conferences that compete in football's Bowl Championship Series.

That does not sound as if he would be inclined to hire Hofstra coach Tom Pecora, and a person familiar with the initial search said St. John's has not contacted him.

And although Monasch said, "I wouldn't back myself into a corner and say I'd rule out someone from the NBA or someone with a different background," the emphasis on experience suggests he is not looking toward St. John's icon Mark Jackson, who never has coached.

Roberts told Mike Francesa on WFAN on Friday that St. John's treated him fairly. He urged fans to support the team and insisted the Red Storm's "future is so bright." About recruiting the top New York City high school stars, Roberts said, "I felt we were really starting to make inroads in that situation. I thought we were very close with Lance Stephenson."

Stephenson, from Lincoln in Brooklyn, the city's premier player last season, had leaned toward St. John's last year before changing his mind and choosing Cincinnati. Had he signed with the Red Storm, Roberts most likely would have kept his job.

Instead, he received long-distance kudos Friday from Rev. Donald Harrington, the university president, who was in Rome for a previously scheduled meeting. In a statement, the president said, "We are deeply grateful for all Norm has done and wish him and his family great success."

St. John's, meanwhile, is seeking a coach who already has had success.

"We are coming up on a pivotal year in our history," Monasch said. "We will have nine scholarships available next year. The decisions that are made in regard to that will pave the way for the next three to five years."

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