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St. John's to interview former UCLA coach Lavin

Analyze this: St. John's may look inside the box - or flat-screen TV - for its next basketball coach. As the selection process continues, ESPN analyst and former UCLA coach Steve Lavin will make his case for returning to coaching after a seven-year absence.

Lavin is ready for his close-up, and his interview was expected to come Monday as St. John's enters the second week of a search that at the moment appears centered on two disparate candidates.

The California-born Lavin, with a successful but distant Pac-10 resume, is a made-for-TV quote machine. He is married to actress Mary Ann Jarou, who has appeared in, perhaps prophetically for her husband, "The King of Queens.''

In what may be a bicoastal battle for the job, Lavin is competing with Boston College coach Al Skinner, with deep New York roots and a Big East background. Skinner's wife isn't a starlet, just anxious to learn if her husband has a new job. St. John's interviewed Skinner, formerly of Malverne, on Friday.

"There is nothing to say. We have no clue as to what's going on,'' Skinner's wife, Donna, told Newsday Sunday.

Starting in the 1996-97 season, Lavin put together six consecutive seasons of at least 20 victories at UCLA. He has five Sweet 16s and two Elite Eights on his ledger, but he was fired after his only losing season (10-19) in 2002-03.

In appearance, manner of dress and slicked-back hairstyle, Lavin, 45, used to draw comparisons to Villanova coach Jay Wright. Nowadays, grease is no longer the word, but Lavin's style has created just as much of a stir as his former look did.

It is the glib Lavin's potential star power - the winning of the news conference - that has attracted St. John's. He also meets the criteria of having NCAA Tournament experience in a power conference.

Most former coaches who have entered the TV arena say they never would return to coaching. Lavin was offered the job at North Carolina State in 2006 but turned it down. Why is he so keen now? More money.

A person with knowledge of the situation said a four- or five-year contract at St. John's (at a salary in excess of $1 million a year) would be worth far more than Lavin's salary in his part-time role on television.

Although it appears St. John's has an endless list of interviewees, the process may be winding down. Siena's Fran McCaffery, who was interviewed Saturday, took the Iowa job Sunday. Temple's Fran Dunphy has been mentioned, and Rhode Island's Jim Baron is in town to coach in the NIT's Final Four.

Source: Hall hires Willard.Kevin Willard is leaving Iona to coach Seton Hall. A person familiar with the hiring told The Associated Press that Willard, 34, has agreed to replace Bobby Gonzalez, who was fired March 17 after a 19-win season plagued by problems off the court. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because the university isn't expected to announce the agreement until today.

Willard took over a downtrodden Iona program three years ago and led the Gaels to a 21-10 record this season, earning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference coach of the year award.

The Daily News and MyCentralJersey.com first reported the hiring.

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