Steve Lavin has a strong desire to resume coaching college basketball, former player and fellow broadcaster Jon Crispin said last night.
Lavin, the former UCLA coach and current ESPN analyst, remains in contention for the vacancy at St. John's. He is on a short list of candidates that is said to include Boston College coach Al Skinner and perhaps Rhode Island's Jim Baron, whose team is in the Final Four of the NIT. St. John's has not signaled an end to the search.
Crispin played at UCLA in Lavin's final season of 2002-03 and has kept in frequent contact with his former coach.
"Ever since he left coaching, I think he wanted to get back in,'' said Crispin, an analyst in the Big Ten. "Everybody looks at what he does right now as kind of the sexy, glamorous job. Everybody thinks it is perfect for Lav. They say, 'Look at Lav, he's got the face and the chops.' But Lav is a coach at heart.''
Crispin said Lavin could not live up to the national title expectations placed on him at UCLA.
"If Lavin gets St. John's to be a 20-game winner and they are in the NCAA Tournament, he's going to be the savior of New York,'' Crispin said. "Winning 20 games [six times] was absolutely not enough at UCLA. He could never do anything right. Even though we went to five Sweet 16s, it was still like 'what is he doing?' Things were happening behind his back, rumors that they were going after [Rick] Pitino.''
A published report on the eve of Lavin's firing pointed to a poor graduation rate of his players and subpar in-game coaching as root causes of his issues.
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero did not respond to a request for an interview.
"That final season was trying on Lavin,'' Crispin said. "Everyone knew it was his last year. He knew it unless he won a national title.''
Lavin finished 10-19 and was dismissed.
"A new AD came in and wanted to turn things around,'' Crispin said of Guerrero. "Lav was one of those things. As many people at UCLA tried to hate the guy, if you knew him personally, you would love him. In a situation like New York City, he would thrive. Even though there would be all the pressure in the world, there's no pressure you could have that would match UCLA.''
When Lavin was fired, he had five years left on his contract, and a report placed his salary at $578,000. He was to receive one year at that figure and four more at $153,000, but that was prorated when he joined ESPN. The coaching salary at St. John's will exceed $1 million annually.
Crispin said Lavin would "have a big hill to climb at St. John's'' in rebuilding the program, but "he has a great ability to recruit. He can sell anything to anybody. He's great at getting different personalities together for a common cause.''
If Lavin and Skinner do not pan out, Baron might get a call. He wasn't saying much about that possibility as he prepared his team to play North Carolina Tuesday night.
"I'm just worried about my team getting ready to play in the NIT,'' he said. "That's the most important thing for me right now. Once that's over, then we'll deal with the next issue.''
With Kimberley A. Martin