Chris Mullin’s stint as St. John’s superstar player lasted exactly as long as his time as the program’s head coach: four seasons.
Mullin’s tenure as coach ended late Tuesday afternoon as the school announced that he had “stepped down” from the position. Mullin was 59-73 over the four seasons, and the Red Storm did not finish above .500 in Big East play in any of them. This season St. John’s was 21-13 and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015, losing in the First Four to Arizona State.
St. John’s now enters a search for his replacement. Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley is a candidate the school finds very desirable, according to administration sources.
Mike Cragg, the St. John’s athletic director hired in October from Duke, told Newsday he plans a “thorough search for someone who is an experienced program-builder.”
“The past four years at St. John’s University have been one of the most thrilling and challenging points of my career,” Mullin said in a statement released by the school. “Today, I have chosen to ask President [Bobby] Gempesaw and the University to accept my decision to step down from coaching the St. John’s men’s basketball team.”
Mullin said the death of his brother Roddy — of cancer on the final weekend of the regular season — gave him pause to consider his situation. “I took time to reflect upon my true values and believe this is the right time to make a change,” he said. He praised the administration for its support.
“Coach Mullin restored excitement to our men’s basketball program and represented St. John’s in a positive way,” Cragg said. “We thank Coach Mullin for all of his contributions to our men’s basketball program. St. John’s basketball progressed well during his tenure, culminating with a trip to the NCAA Tournament this past season.”
Mullin had two seasons and approximately $4 million remaining on his contract. Cragg said after the final game of the season that he did not envision a need to offer Mullin the traditional contract extension at this point; one was discussed with Cragg and Gempesaw.
Cragg said no decision has been made on whether to employ an outside firm to help with the search. Asked if he had a mental list of candidates, he replied “yes, but every AD has a mental list of candidates – I’m not sure it means that much."
In the school statement, Cragg said St. John’s seeks “an experienced coach capable of running a high-level Division I team in New York City.”
If St. John’s wants to pursue Hurley – who starred at Duke during Cragg’s time as an administrator there – there will be costs. Newsday has obtained a copy of Hurley’s contract with the Sun Devils. The New Jersey native is owed approximately $7.8 million over three years and can buy out now at a cost of $2.5 million.
Mullin’s team this season staggered badly at the end or the regular season, lost a Big East quarterfinal, got the final at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament field and was routed by ASU in Dayton. Mullin declared after that game that he would return “100 percent.”
Since the end of the season, star Shamorie Ponds declared for the NBA Draft, assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih – the top recruiter – bolted for Nebraska, and signee Cam Mack from Salt Lake CC requested a release from his letter of intent. Junior Justin Simon reacted to Tuesday’s news by signing with an agent to go pro.
“I am proud of our accomplishments. NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday will be a lifetime memory,” Mullin said in the statement. “I am forever grateful to St. John’s for giving me the opportunity to hear Carnesecca Arena and Madison Square Garden roar again for college basketball and especially for our players. . . . I will always support St. John’s University in keeping our basketball tradition alive!”
With Jim Baumbach
Bobby Hurley: The Arizona State coach and son of Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley is the name on most people’s lips now. St. John’s AD Mike Cragg has known him since he starred for Duke. Cragg gave an interview last month to AZCentral.com in which he said they have stayed in touch and tries to watch as many ASU games on TV as possible. Hurley, 47, could be Plan A.
Mike Boynton: The Oklahoma State coach is an up-and-comer who starred at Loughlin High in Brooklyn and played at South Carolina. The 37-year-old was an assistant of note at Wofford, South Carolina and Stephen F. Austin before becoming an assistant at OSU and ascending to head coach before last season.
Jon Scheyer: The associate head coach under Mike Krzyzewski has been on Duke’s staff since 2013. The 31-year-old is considered a burgeoning star but lacks head- coaching experience. St. John’s has not been a good learn-on-the-job spot (see: Norm Roberts, Chris Mullin).
Rick Pitino: It’s the ultimate “buy low” scenario. A son of Long Island and the Big East, Pitino is a proven program builder and an exceptional coach who has won two NCAA championships. The 66-year-old is coaching in Greece after an embarrassing firing by Louisville after being implicated in a federal investigation for funneling money to prospective recruits, allegations he denies.
Tim Cluess: The Iona coach has turned NCAA Tournaments into a regular thing in New Rochelle, making six in nine seasons while compiling a 199-108 record. The 60-year-old Long Islander played at St. John’s before transferring to Hofstra. His name has been floated for the Storm several times.