St. John’s parts ways with Mike Anderson; Rick Pitino better be next

To the surprise of no one, St. John’s made the move it had to make on Friday by parting ways with Mike Anderson after four underwhelming seasons.

The obvious next step is to hire Rick Pitino away from Iona.

Multiple reports indicate there is mutual interest between the school and Pitino. And CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein reports that the Johnnies have been working on vetting Pitino for some time.

The hire would create more buzz in Jamaica, Queens, for a once-proud nationally relevant program since Lou Carnesecca’s Chris Mullin-Walter Berry-Mark Jackson teams of the 1980s.

Sure Mike Jarvis coached Fran Frischilla’s kids to within a whisker of the Final Four in 1999, but the Johnnies haven’t won an NCAA tournament game – or even reached a Big East semifinal – in 23 years. The program has just four NCAA appearances in that time.

A surprise hire to succeed Chris Mullin in 2019, Mike Anderson is a nice man who had plenty of success at major programs before stepping foot in Queens. He also had the pedigree of being Nolan Richardson’s top lieutenant for Arkansas’ 40 Minutes of Hell teams that won the 1994 national championship and finished runner-up to UCLA in 1995.

Anderson’s teams often emulated that style during stops at UAB, Missouri, Arkansas, and the early years at St. John’s.

After winning Big East Coach of the Year in 2020-21, Anderson’s teams had the talent to make the NCAA tournament the past two seasons and fell flat during Big East play each time. As Anderson said again after Thursday’s gut-wrenching overtime loss to Marquette in the Big East quarterfinals, the Red Storm had the talent, but the question was whether it gelled enough to be an NCAA tournament-worthy team. Obviously not. And some, if not most, of that failure to gell fell on Anderson himself. It cost him his job.

Anderson leaves with four years and $10 million left on his contract. On the hook for all that money, St. John’s didn’t make this decision lightly, nor did it do it without a plan. And that plan appears to be Pitino.

Even though Pitino comes with baggage from scandals – both within the program and personal ones – at Louisville, he has bided his time well at Iona, waiting for one more chance to get back to national prominence. His name is also connected to openings at Georgetown and Texas Tech.

There is no way St. John’s can hire a worthy rising star [think Hofstra’s Speedy Claxton] who needs time to rebuild the program only to see Pitino turn things around for the rival Hoyas in a short time.

If Pitino leaves Iona this offseason, St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg and president Father Brian Shanley must make sure his only stop outside New Rochelle is the short drive across the Whitestone Bridge to Jamaica, Queens, less than 25 miles from where Pitino grew up in Bayview, L.I.

The resume speaks for itself: National titles at two different programs, a Final Four at Providence, and a successful two-year run at Madison Square Garden leading the Knicks.

At 70 years old, Pitino won’t be considered a long-term solution, but he could change the culture of a program begging for it soon enough to hand it off to someone in his coaching tree or that worthy rising star mentioned earlier. I will forever be throwing in the name of former St. John’s staffer and New York AAU-bred Kimani Young, the associate head coach at UConn, who may finally get his first mid-Major job this offseason after flirting with a couple of openings last year.

The Red Storm fan base deserves this kind of excitement again. It has been clamoring for Pitino ever since he arrived and won at Iona two years ago. With a spot in Saturday’s MAAC title game, his Gaels are one win away from their second NCAA tournament appearance in three years.

Imagine, Johnnies fans, three years from now saying those words. A second NCAA tournament appearance in three years. The first NCAA tournament win in a quarter-century. This is all conceivable with this hire.

For now, the list of candidates should be short. Rick Pitino is the only name that should be on it.