Mike Anderson Hire Ends St. John’s Coaching Drama

Anderson replaces Chris Mullin, whose deep NYC roots weren’t enough to keep him with the Johnnies.

St. John’s let NBA Hall of Famer and the greatest player in school history, Chris Mullin, walk out the door a few weeks after he led them to the first NCAA Tournament of his four-year tenure. 

Haters want to complain about how Mullin didn’t get St. John’s back to an elite level fast enough, but in the four years he was at the helm for the Red Storm, the program improved each year. His inaugural season in 2015-16 was a disaster, as Mullin only won 8 games. However, he improved to 14 wins and then 16 and this past season he got St. John’s into the NCAA Tournament with 20 wins.

Despite the progress, the living legend couldn’t even get a fifth-year to build on the tourney appearance.

Mullin’s departure and the head coaching search fiasco that ended with the hiring of 59-year-old Alabama native Mike Anderson on Friday,  shed a spotlight on the university’s athletic administration. 

The former prestige that St. John’s enjoyed as one of the integral pieces of the original Big East is now gone. Mullin was the last living symbol 0f that era for the University. His departure represents a permanent disconnect and severance between St. John’s past days of glory and the university’s current state as a program lacking a true identity, national attention and real resources. 

A line of elite coaches, including Jersey-born Bobby Hurley Jr., Loyola Chicago’s Porter Moser and Iona’s Tim Cluess, all were in the mix for the position, but reportedly told them, “thanks, but no thanks.” 

17-year NCAA coaching veteran Mike Anderson was the only viable option left, and St. John’s made it official Friday morning. While the hiring isn’t a bombshell, it does stop the bleeding for one of the most embarrassing and egregiously managed situations in St. John’s history. Anderson also follows Mike Jarvis and Norm Roberts as the third African-American coach in the program’s history. 

Anderson coached Arkansas the past eight seasons and is a product of the Nolan Richardson championship coaching tree. Anderson helped Richardson win an NIT title at Tulsa as a player and was also Richardson’s assistant coach for many years

Similar to Mullin, when Anderson assumed the helm at Arkansas, he was the favorite son returning home and the Arkansas community had high expectations. While he had some success, he was unable to match the 28-season run of greatness led by Eddie Sutton and Richardson from 1974-2002. Anderson only made three NCAA Tournament appearances with the Razorbacks.  

Yet unlike Mullin, Anderson has a history of turning programs around and winning. He built unheralded Missouri into a power, winning 31 games in 2009 and going to the Elite 8. Prior to that, he built the UAB program into a problem for opponents. In his four seasons for the Blazers, Anderson went to the NCAA Tournament three times and won 89 games.

Still, Anderson’s track record doesn’t erase the emptiness of Mullin’s departure and the string of dysfunction that the current St. John’s athletic department has displayed. 

I still don’t understood why they let him leave.

There’s been reports that Mullin wasn’t committed enough and didn’t maximize his talent, but I find that hard to believe, especially as the team record improved every season. The wins say the Red Storm was on the rise and who better to change the culture than the one guys responsible for leading it back in the glory ’80s. A guy who has succeeded at every level of the sport and has experience as an NBA executive.

Think about what Mullin had to work with. It’s not like recruits were clamoring to come to St. John’s. Shamorie Ponds was their best player and he’s not even a first-round lock.

Big East teams like Villanova had the resources, exposure and resume to sign future NBA players every season. Anderson has even less to work with as some of St. John’s better players have transferred in the wake of Mullin’s departure.    

St. John’s hasn’t come close to recreating the magic seen during the 27 years that Louie Carnessecca was at the helm. Maybe Anderson will change that, but his success will never duplicate the historical significance that Mullin’s hire represented.

It’s just odd that St. John’s didn’t ride with Mullin until the wheels fell off like he had done for the school during the glory years of the past.

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