For the second straight season, we’re getting a coaching change for Big East men’s basketball, and for the second straight season, it’s because the coach made a decision to leave. Last year it was Chris Mack making the move to Louisville, this year, it’s Chris Mullin leaving St. John’s.
“This has been an extremely emotional decision, but after a recent personal loss, I took time to reflect upon my true values and believe this is the right time to make a change,” Mullin said in a statement issued by the school. “I am extremely grateful to the administration, which has supported me and our basketball program on every level.
”I’ve been amazed by our coaches, trainers, managers and staff who work relentless hours, which enables this team to grow and thrive. I’ve been honored to coach the young men who are the heart and soul of this program. It’s a job I will always cherish.”
The personal loss mentioned there is presumably the death of Mullin’s older brother due to cancer at the beginning of March. I’m not entirely sure why we didn’t hear more about this, but according to ESPN, Mullin attended the funeral the day before St. John’s played DePaul in the Big East tournament.
While I’m sure the death of his brother paid a role in Mullin’s decision to step down, it can’t be the sole and only activating force here. Mullin might be the best player in Red Storm history, but the same can not be said for his coaching tenure. While digging out from underneath the roster depletion left behind by Steve Lavin, Mullin went just 59-73 in four seasons with a 20-52 record in Big East games. 2018-19 was his only season over .500, finishing 21-13 overall, but just 8-10 in conference games. It was also his only postseason appearance, reaching the NCAA tournament First Four, where SJU lost to Arizona State.
In terms of what was coming back next year, Marvin Clark II was a senior and is thus done. Shamorie Ponds had already announced that he would sign with an agent and enter the NBA Draft process before the news broke, while Justin Simon announced that he was signing with an agent as the news was breaking. Odds are that decision was coming anyway, but that means three of St. John’s top five scorers were most likely all out the door even if Mullin was coming back.
If that wasn’t enough, assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih joined up with Fred Hoiberg at Nebraska. That departure may have specifically led to JUCO guard Cameron Mack requesting and receiving his release from St. John’s before Mullin’s departure was announced. That left St. John’s with no signed players for the class of 2019 and only Valdir Manuel, a JUCO center, committed to sign in the spring, and as I’m writing this, he’s already told Adam Zagoria that he’s opening things back up again. No matter what happened with Mullin, the roster was going to be gutted and things were going to be pretty difficult once again for the Johnnies. Abdelmassih is known as an excellent recruiter, and with Mullin and Mitch Richmond not having a particularly strong recruiting background, that was spelling bad news long term for both Mullin and the Red Storm.
In short, no matter how much the personal loss affected Mullin, you can see why he might have wanted to jump ship anyway. If you want to dig around a little bit, you can read about reports of schisms between Mullin and the SJU administration that just kept getting worse since the loss in the NCAA tournament, so it’s all just falling into place and landing with this result.
The question becomes who is going to be willing to take over a St. John’s program that needs a fairly substantial rebuild for the second time this decade. Odds are that the administration should be able to pay to hire any mid-major head coach or high major assistant that they want, but reeling in a guy from another high major head coaching job seems unlikely. Had Mullin departed right after the loss in the NCAA tournament, maybe they could have gotten involved with some names looking to make a jump, but by waiting til what amounts to mid-April to make a hire, St. John’s is going to be playing from behind a little bit.
As Marquette fans, we have to be a slight bit gleeful about the fact that Mullin is headed out of town. MU was just 6-4 against Chris Mullin’s teams, with three of the wins coming in Mullin’s first season. Since Shamorie Ponds came to town, the record is 3-4 against the Red Storm, even though the Red Storm were not particularly great in any of those seasons and MU made the NCAA tournament in two of those campaigns. Whether that was more Mullin, more Abdelmassih, or more Ponds, the fact that we don’t have to deal with that weird spectre hanging over the season any more is a comforting thought on some level for Golden Eagles fans everywhere.
Keep your eyes and ears open for news on this one over the next week or 10 days.....