In his final official act as St. John’s men’s basketball coach, Mike Anderson professed his desire to lead the Red Storm to the NIT and come back next year in an attempt to turn around a beleaguered program that has suffered two disappointing seasons in a row.
He won’t be getting that shot.
A day after falling to Marquette in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, St. John’s made the decision to part ways with Anderson on Friday.
The search for a third coach in eight years might be a short one, though, with multiple outlets reporting mutual interest between St. John’s and Iona coach Rick Pitino, the two-time MAAC Coach of the Year. (The Gaels are competing in the MAAC Tournament and looking for a return to the NCAA Tournament.)
Anderson took over for Chris Mullin four years ago, and promising early returns led to an extension two years into his tenure. He still has four years left on his contract to the tune of what’s believed to be more than $11 million, according to Forbes. He was 68-56 in four seasons.
“After fully evaluating the men’s basketball program, our university has decided a change is needed in both the leadership and direction of St. John’s basketball,” athletic director Mike Cragg said in a statement. “We wish coach Mike Anderson and his family the best in their future.”
Anderson’s honeymoon period lasted two seasons, capped by being named Big East Coach of the Year in 2021, the result of the Red Storm’s first winning record in conference play since the 2014-15 season.
St. John’s went 15-24 in Big East play in his final two seasons, though, and didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament once or reach a national ranking under his tenure. The Red Storm haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament main draw since 2015.
Associate head coach Van Macon will take over Anderson’s duties until a replacement is hired.
St. John’s is coming off a brutal loss to top-seeded Marquette, a game in which it led by as many as 14 before falling, 72-70, in overtime. And though Anderson spoke about the NIT in his postgame news conference, there’s no guarantee the Red Storm will be invited to that, either.
It was then that Anderson clearly stated that he wished to return.
“Without a doubt” he wanted to come back, he said. “I look forward to [being with] this team, guys.”
He refused any further speculation about his future.
Thursday night’s loss stung for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which because it so closely mirrored the loss to No. 1 Villanova last year. Then there’s the fact that this Red Storm team began the season with plenty of promise, with Anderson himself raising the stakes by saying it had the talent to make the NCAA Tournament.
It’s “one of the things,” Anderson said when reminded of his comments Thursday. “If you go back and look at what I said, I said talent, but talent doesn’t make a team.
“You’ve got to become a team. If you go back and look at it, that’s exactly what I said. It’s got to become a team. I don’t think we, between the season, between injury, guys being — it’s just a bunch of things that just didn’t come together like they should have.
“But I think I saw that team [against Marquette]. We saw that team today. We’ve been seeing that team here lately, as a matter of fact.”
Rick Pitino is the biggest person of interest for St. John’s as it seeks to replace Mike Anderson as men’s basketball coach. However, there are some other candidates on the school’s radar.
Pitino also is reportedly being pursued by heavy-spending Texas Tech, and St. John’s may need to hedge its bets. Three people the school might be considering are Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton, Norfolk State coach Robert Jones, Charleston coach Pat Kelsey and Yale coach James Jones, who is from Long Island.
Claxton is in his second season heading the Pride and is taking them to the NIT after winning the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title but losing to North Carolina Wilmington in overtime in the semifinals of the conference tournament. The Queens product starred at Hofstra before playing nine seasons in the NBA. He is highly skilled at bringing in talent. Four of his five starters this season came out of the transfer portal and the fifth is highly sought Jaquan Carlos from Brooklyn’s Jefferson High.
Robert Jones also hails from Queens and is in his ninth season at Norfolk State. The Spartans are seeking their third conference title and NCAA Tournament trip with him at the helm. Jones has a good track record of spotting talent, especially in the New York area. He recruited and developed former Knick Kyle O’Quinn.
Kelsey doesn’t have ties to New York but has coached Winthrop and Charleston to four NCAA Tournament berths in the past seven seasons (the 2020 tourney was canceled). He recruited and developed Chris Paul and Jeff Teague into NBA players.
James Jones was the frontrunner to become the Red Storm’s coach until decision-makers changed directions and went with Anderson. Under Jones, the Bulldogs are playing for their fifth NCAA Tournament berth in the past five years (including 2020).