We’ve Seen Two of the Worst Coaching Searches Ever This Off-Season
With 47 and 29 NCAA Tournament appearances respectively, UCLA and St. John’s have a strong history in College Basketball. History is the keyword. Of late, both programs have struggled, the Johnnies more so than the Bruins, but both are well below what they and their fanbase expect. These struggles led to a pair of coaching changes, UCLA made their move mid-season while Chris Mullin recently stepped down at St. John’s. In that time, we’ve seen two of the worst coaching searches in the history of College Basketball.
UCLA had lofty expectations and took frankly poor shots at those targets. They offered John Calipari less money to leave a better job and live in a more expensive part of the country. Then came the fiasco with apparently not understanding how buyouts work. Both Jamie Dixon and Rick Barnes were lost because of this.
Throughout this whole process the UCLA brass has said they wanted to get back to playing an up-tempo and fun brand of basketball. Fast forward to getting rejected by a bundle of candidates and they settle on Mick Cronin. Don’t get me wrong, Cronin will win you games, in the regular season, but his resume isn’t great outside of that. He had a single Sweet Sixteen appearance in his time at Cincinnati. Then add on that Cronin’s teams have consistently played one of the slowest and most defensive minded styles in the entire country, this signing is a real head-scratcher.
Cronin’s Cincinnati teams never played in the top-200 in terms of KenPom tempo and were consistently in the bottom 25 of the country. Now, Virginia winning the title this year sort of changes the narrative about teams that play this style. But the fit just isn’t there for UCLA.
There’s an argument that can be made that Cronin simple installed this style of play for his program because he wouldn’t be able to compete for the high caliber players on the recruiting trail. I would be completely and utterly stunned if he changes his style, but he does have the UCLA brand to sell and even when the program is down, they can still land talented players.
St. John’s Tumultuous Off-Season
On the other side of the country, St. John’s in the midst of an equally important and equally pathetic coaching search. It opened with the Red Storm leaving the team completely in the dark regarding the future of Chris Mullin. This felt like a gentle push out the door and the word buyout had been thrown around although I believe the official stance is that Mullin stepped down. Regardless, when you are looking to return mostly the entire group from a team that underachieved but was talented is bold. And by bold, I mean dumb.
The move following Mullin’s departure was saying that the job was Bobby Hurley’s if he wanted it. Hurley is fresh off his 2nd consecutive NCAA Tournament at Arizona State, a program that is in a much better place than St. John’s.
To be clear, the consensus was always that Shamorie Ponds was going to go pro, it was only strengthened throughout the year as the Johnnies struggled following a hot start and confirmed when Mullin left. Maybe, maybe, Bobby Hurley could have brought the entire team back or at least the important pieces but it was slim to think Ponds would be back.
Once Hurley made his Twitter statement that he was staying at Arizona State, the focus shifted to St. John’s alumnus and Iona head coach Tim Cluess. Cluess has brought Iona to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments, six overall, and prior to this season had won 20+ games every year in New Rochelle.
There is certainly a difference in jumping from the MAAC to the Big East, but it can be done and can be done successfully (see: Kevin Willard). This felt like the safe choice for St. John’s. He’s a guy that has been through the program, is a true St. John’s man, and has had success in the New York City area. But no, this was yet another happening where a school forgets how a buyout works. Or in this case, they simply didn’t call to work it out. The rumored buyout is in the range of $2m which is steep for a MAAC school to have on a coach but wouldn’t break the bank for St. John’s in the slightest.
There have also been rumors of a power struggle inside the administration at St. John’s. AD Mike Cragg seems to be strongly in favor of Cluess while Joe Oliva wanted Porter Moser from Loyola-Chicago.
The Moser twist was one that many did not see coming. He helped guide Loyola-Chicago to the Final Four in 2018 and a Missouri Valley regular season title this year. According to sources, Moser met and ate with St. John’s officials last night who then offered him an 8-year $2m+ deal. That’s a massive pay raise from the $900k salary he makes at Loyola, and an incredible length pointing towards patience and security from a program that has been anything but in the past decade.
I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this. I am strongly in the boat that Moser is not a good coach and caught lightning in a bottle with that Final Four run. This year felt like vindication when they lost in the MVC Semifinals to eventual champion, Bradley.
Porter Moser has a career 246-226 coaching record and was abysmal at Illinois State. In his entire head coaching career, which spans back to Arkansas Little-Rock in 2000-01, Moser has put together just three 20 win seasons (all at Loyola). And in his time in Rogers Park, Moser is 19 games under .500 in conference play, which includes a pair of seasons in the lesser Horizon League. If people thought that Cluess would be a bad hire, then I am not sure what to label Moser.
Fortunately for St. John’s fans they were spared as Moser turned down the job offer. This is an extremely bad visual, but one that can be overcome if they make a proper hire.
While things look bleak for the Johnnies, there is some light. Tim Cluess would still be a solid hire, should they finally work out his buyout with Iona. There are some other options out there that would work for the Johnnies, but this search went from important to paramount in a matter of days because of the absolutely amateur way the coaching search has been run. To answer Jerry’s question in his above tweet, this coaching search is all of the above. But misery loves company and in St. John’s case, they will have UCLA standing right by their side when this is all said and done.