During his undergraduate years at St. John's in the late 1970s, Chris Monasch was an ardent supporter of the Lou Carnesecca-coached basketball team. Monasch continued to follow the team as he pursued a career in athletic administration. He eventually returned to Jamaica, becoming St. John's athletic director in 2005.
His toughest day on the job occurred three days ago when he dismissed Norm Roberts. "A difficult day,'' he said softly. He had never fired anyone.
Now Monasch has been charged with selecting a new coach. "It's a challenge,'' he said. "I'm hoping I enjoy it. Probably the most important thing an athletic director does is hire good people.''
Usually content to work at his desk or watch the university's teams, Monasch is front and center this time. "People will remember Chris Monasch on this hire,'' said Richard Laskowski, a former administrator at St. John's and Stony Brook who has known Monasch for 20 years.
Monasch, 50, was an associate athletic director at Fordham and Seton Hall, where he also received his law degree, and was commissioner of the Northeast Conference and America East Conference before his arrival at St. John's in 2005.
University president Rev. Donald J. Harrington has given Monasch autonomy in picking a coach. "There's no committee and there's no search firm,'' Monasch said. "I will do the research, the interviews, and make a recommendation to Father Harrington. Certainly, it has to be somebody he is comfortable with. But he wants me to run this search. I understand what values he wants in a coach and we'll find a person who has those values.''
Monasch disputed the popular notion that Harrington micromanages athletics the way George Steinbrenner once did with the Yankees. "It's completely the other end of that spectrum,'' Monasch said. "I have found him to be very good to work with, so I don't know where that comes from. He is clear about what his objectives are, what his expectations are, and then he lets you go do it.''
Monasch also dispelled the idea that a roundtable of university personnel, presided over by an all-omnipotent Carnesecca, must approve the hire. "Absolutely not true,'' Carnesecca, 85, said yesterday. The former coach said he was out skeet shooting when Roberts was being dismissed and will play no role in Monasch's search. "I had nothing to do with [selecting] the last coach,'' he said, "and I'm not involved with the picking of the new coach.''
Speculation that the alumni want a say in the matter also was shot down. "Alumni shouldn't be picking the coach,'' said Anthony Bonomo, a major contributor to St. John's. "That's why you have an AD and the president of the university.''
Monasch has candidates in mind but will proceed with caution. "We want to be successful,'' he said, "but we don't want it to be at a cost, and the cost we paid a few years ago is something we don't ever want to go near again. We'll be very strong about that when we look at the candidates.''
Who are they? "There's not a person, there's a list of people,'' Monasch said. "There are a couple who are way up there [in salary] and then it comes down to a much more reasonable number.''
Roberts made $650,000. Monasch knows the ante will be much higher this time.
"We'll look at the particular candidate,'' he said. "If we have a sincere feel that there might be a mutual interest, then I will try to understand what package that person will need.''
A St. John's spokesman said members of the basketball team are expected to speak this week about the firing and their thoughts on a new coach.