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SportsColumnistsGreg Logan

If Roberts is out, who will save the Storm?

St John's coach Norm Roberts hangs is head

St John's coach Norm Roberts hangs is head and walks by the bench with less than 20 seconds to go in a loss to Marquette. (March 10, 2010) Credit: Photo by Craig Ruttle

It took less than 24 hours for the Official Norm Roberts Job Watch to go from the rumor mill to the firing squad. St. John's Big East Tournament ended with a second-round loss to Marquette on Wednesday, and a published report Thursday said the decision to fire Roberts has been made. It identified Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, a Plainview native, as the top candidate to replace him.

Not surprisingly, a St. John's spokesman indicated no decision has been reached on Roberts, who taped episode 10 of the Red Storm Report Thursday and scheduled a practice for Friday while the Storm (17-15) waits to see if it receives a postseason bid from the NIT or the CBI.

"It was business as usual today," said Mark Fratto, associate athletics director for communications. "We're NIT-eligible. The selections are Sunday night. We don't consider our season to be over yet."

Of course, St. John's might very well be going through the appropriate motions while waiting to see if the NIT has any interest in a 15-loss team. Official policy is that Rev. Donald Harrington, the school president, and athletic director Chris Monasch will evaluate Roberts when the season ends, but the legwork in situations such as this one always begins much earlier because it's the AD's job to be prepared if he's going to fire a coach.

Rumors of Roberts' imminent demise have been circulating in the local basketball community for weeks, and with an 81-100 record over six seasons and declining attendance at Red Storm games at Madison Square Garden, that's quite likely the case. But one knowledgeable insider said Harrington is nothing if not an unpredictable contrarian.

"He probably doesn't want to fire Norm," the insider said. "Maybe he can find an excuse to keep him. He's the type who will say, 'Newspaper guys are not going to tell me who to hire.' "

On the other hand, pressure from dissatisfied alumni to change coaches likely is too great to resist. So let the speculation begin.

Certainly, Greenberg is a well-qualified candidate with a wealth of experience, and he has strong connections to Al LoBalbo, a St. John's assistant under Lou Carnesecca who coached Greenberg at Fairleigh Dickinson. Greenberg hasn't coached in the area since he was an assistant at Columbia (1978-80), but he is a two-time ACC coach of the year who has recruited successfully on the national scene.

Another candidate is Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, who is rumored to be on his way out in Atlanta. Harrington is said to be enamored of him. It's uncertain how his precarious situation at Georgia Tech might be viewed.

St. John's also is bound to have three prominent New York-connected coaches high on its list of potential candidates - Hofstra's Tom Pecora, Iona's Kevin Willard and Siena's Fran McCaffery.

Pecora is well-entrenched in the metropolitan area recruiting scene and likely would jump at a chance to go to St. John's. Willard is a former Pitino assistant who took over a two-win Iona team three seasons ago and just had his first winning season (21-10). McCaffrey has Siena (27-6) in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. If Rutgers dumps Fred Hill and the remaining $1.8 million on his deal, McCaffrey and Greenberg could be in line for that job as well.

It would be a shock if St. John's pays a multimillion-dollar salary to a big-name coach, but money isn't the sum of the answer. It's picking the right man to convince New York's elite players they can win at St. John's and pack the Garden again.


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