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And Now, A Big East Men’s Basketball Coaching Roundup

Because this league got officially deeply weird on Monday.

Syndication: The Providence Journal Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY Network / USA TODAY NETWORK

Well, Monday was an entire day in the world of Big East men’s basketball coaching news.

Let’s start with the simple news, and that’s Mike Anderson preparing to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against St. John’s, his now-former employer.

From ESPN’s report:

Per his contract, Anderson would have been owed $11 million if he had not been fired for cause, and he believes he was wrongfully terminated. According to ESPN’s Jeff Borzello and Pete Thamel, the school has been in “serious” talks with Iona head coach Rick Pitino to replace Anderson.

According to the termination letter obtained by ESPN, Anderson was fired for “failure to create and support an environment that strongly encourages student-athletes who are in the men’s basketball program to meet all university academic requirements,” “failure to perform your duties and responsibilities in a manner that reflected positively on St. John’s University ... in actions [that] brought serious discredit” to the school and “failure to appropriately supervise and communicate with your assistant coaches.”

Okay, so I think we can say the following here.

  1. These things are all part of any Division 1 head coach’s job description, and thus they are things that they must be doing as part of their administration of the program.
  2. If St. John’s has a big ol’ inch thick manilla folder of evidence of Anderson not executing his duties to the standard required, they I’d say they’re pretty justified in this.
  3. If SJU does have said evidence, the smart thing would be to go to Mike Anderson with said evidence and say “hey, we could fire you in public with all of this [drops folder on table], but we don’t want to, how about you take $1 million and just go away?”
  4. If SJU does not have a gigantic pile of evidence to wave around to prove that Anderson deserved to be fired for something other than his 68-56 record with no NCAA tournament appearances, I have absolutely no idea what they think that they’re trying to do here other than get out of paying $11 million dollars. I highly recommend you do not attempt this tactic.

Why might St. John’s be trying to get out of paying Anderson the $11 million that he is contractually owed?

WELLLLLLLLLLLL, THAT TAKES US TO ITEM #2 ON THE NEWS CHART, and Rick Pitino is your new head coach of the St. John’s Red Storm.

From the official press release:

“I am delighted to welcome Rick Pitino and his family to the St. John’s family,” said Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President of St. John’s University. “I am excited that this seasoned coaching veteran—who has won at the highest levels and is as passionate as ever— is committed to leading our student-athletes and our program to national prominence. Rick knows BIG EAST basketball and is determined to take and keep the Red Storm program where we know it belongs.”

”One of my great coaching memories was having the distinct privilege of coaching against Lou Carnesecca and St John’s, a Hall of Fame coach and historic program that I have always respected,” said Pitino. “It is surreal to now have this opportunity to bring St John’s back to prominence. I’m honored, humbled and grateful to Fr. Shanley, Bill Janetschek and Mike Cragg for making me feel so special.”

Guys, I don’t know anything for certain and St. John’s is a private school so it’s not like this info is just gonna be readily available any time soon..... but I’m pretty sure that Rick Pitino does not work cheap. That would definitely be one reason why SJU is trying to hang on to $11 million.

This will be Pitino’s third stint in the Big East. He was the head coach at Providence for two seasons in 1986 and 1987, taking the Friars to the Final Four in his second season after stacking up a record of 42-23 in that time. He left to go be the head coach of the New York Knicks, but that lasted just two seasons before he went back to the college ranks. After a very successful run with Kentucky, Pitino went back to the NBA to coach the Boston Celtics and lasted about three and a half seasons before he resigned. That sent him back to college again, this time with Louisville, and the Cardinals joined the Big East in his fifth season there. They spent eight seasons in the league, amassing a record of 213-76 before spending a gap year in the AAC and then moving on to the ACC.

Pitino’s last few years in the Commonwealth were marred with scandal and he was pushed out in 2017. After some time coaching in Greece, Pitino returned to the college ranks again in the spring of 2020 with Iona. Over the past year, the NCAA has cleared him of all wrong doing in the various scandals at Louisville, and that meant a program with a lower risk tolerance than Iona would be interested in picking him up. St. John’s has elected to be that program.

I am not sure that it is the right choice. Oh, it’s going to work to get them some national attention for something positive, and that’s never a bad thing. I’m not even going to say that Rick’s lost his fastball, as he has guided Iona to two NCAA tournaments in his three seasons there, and given that the MAAC is effectively a one bid league forever and ever, that’s pretty impressive. I am, however, saying that Rick Pitino is going to turn 71 before the 2023-24 season starts and I do not know long he is really going to be in charge in Queens. It’s impossible to say what his roster is going to look like eight months from now, and while I feel comfortable pretty much guaranteeing that he’s going to get as much out of those guys as he can…. I don’t know if it’s enough to succeed in the Big East. More importantly, I don’t know if it’s going to be enough to build a self-sustaining program at St. John’s by the time Pitino eventually calls it quits on his Hall of Fame career. If St. John’s is trying to skip out on the $11 million that they agreed to pay Mike Anderson [checks notes] after two seasons of 15-22 action in the Big East, that tells me that maaaaaaaybe they’re not quite set up to properly set the stage for Rick Pitino to do what he needs to do. Let’s be honest about it: The longer it takes for him to show signs of success at St. John’s, the faster that end of career is going to come up on him.

And speaking of a need to show signs of success in a hurry, let us head down to our nation’s capital, where Georgetown has a new head coach.

And it’s Providence’s old head coach, Ed Cooley.

Blah blah blah whatever from university president John DeGioia and athletics director Lee Reed. Here’s the quote from the Georgetown press release from Cooley:

“I am excited for the opportunity to lead the men’s basketball program at Georgetown University. President DeGioia and Athletics Director Lee Reed are united in a strong vision, including in their beliefs, for Georgetown’s program, its players and the team’s success. I plan on hitting the ground running, getting to work on the court and cultivating relationships in and around the District. Accepting this opportunity with Georgetown is not a decision I took lightly, and was made in careful consideration with my wife and family,” said Cooley.

Uh huh.

I think this is a mistake, and I don’t just mean a mistake by Cooley, and I don’t just mean a mistake by Georgetown.

Georgetown needs someone to come in and immediately throw a cloak of credibility over them after Patrick Ewing went 2-37 in the Big East over the past two seasons. That’s why I thought buying the remaining years of Rick Pitino’s career to do a quick flash refresh on the program would have been a good idea. Georgetown clearly has a deeper financial infrastructure available to them than both St. John’s and Providence (if it is properly pointed towards the right directions) and they could set Pitino up quicker and get the men’s basketball program back to if not respectability then at the very least not being a national joke in a hurry.

Ed Cooley is not taking the Georgetown job to quickly fix the place up and move on, either to a different job or retirement. I think it is safe to say that the 53 year old Cooley is taking this job with the idea of it being the last job he has, but that end point is way off in the future. That means he could be approaching it in a “we’re going to lay a foundation and get this going the way it needs to go for decades” manner not a “we need to have a worst to first turnaround” manner. I don’t know if that’s really what Georgetown and their 5,442 average attendance this past season needs. I don’t think there are a lot of Georgetown fans who are really here for listening to a story about how this is a reclamation project and it’s going to take time to do the work that needs to be done and it needs to be done the right way.

Hey, if that’s not the direction Cooley’s going in, then I’m wrong, and that’s fine. But I don’t know if it is, and that’s why I’m hesitant about it.

The other part of it from a Georgetown perspective is Cooley has a record of 242–153 at Providence and that’s 118–99 in Big East play. Georgetown just made what is believed to be the first head coach pilfering within the conference in the entire history of the league…. For a guy with three NCAA tournament wins in seven appearances in 11 seasons, 12 if you count 2020 when there was no NCAA tournament. Ed Cooley’s best season at Providence was when he won a Big East regular season title…. By playing fewer games than anyone else in the league did in the 2021 season and catching a break that the league changed the rules mid-season to not count those missed games as forfeits, and then grabbing that title by winning percentage not win-loss record. Before the Big East switched to a 20 game schedule, the best that Cooley managed to do is a 12 win season.

This is the guy that you just lit an entire fanbase inside your league on fire for? You sure about that? I’m not saying Ed Cooley’s a bad coach, I’m saying that Georgetown is hinging an awful lot of things on “well, we have lots of money because we’re Georgetown so obviously he will do better than that here.” Unless Georgetown is okay with “we are mostly good enough to make the NCAA tournament every year, but that’s about it, and not even every year.” Which I doubt they are.

From Cooley’s perspective, I have no idea why he did this.

Let me explain it this way. I watch a lot of Big East Digital Network for soccer, volleyball, and lacrosse reasons. I see a lot of the TV commercials that each school produces to advertise for themselves. Here’s one that Providence put out into the world four months ago.

Here’s one from about a year ago.

Here’s one from about two years ago.

Are you getting it yet? Ed Cooley has been front and center for the marketing arm of the college, not just the athletic department, for years. Not that this is a reason to keep a job or anything like that, do whatever’s best for you, but this is a measurement and a testament to exactly how much Ed Cooley has meant to Providence College. Heck, forget Providence College, how about the city of Providence, as he was born there, raised there, and went to high school there and earned state player of the year honors twice while playing hoops at Central High School. This man is Providence, Rhode Island, through and through….

…. And he just lit all of that goodwill with the entire state and the fanbase on fire forever, all so he can cash a very big paycheck and take over a basketball program with more institutional problems than you can properly account and identify.

Why? Why do this? There is zero promise that Georgetown’s institutional wealth is going to be able to provide Cooley’s Hoyas with more success than he’s brought to Providence in his time there. Oh, by the way? While I’m questioning Georgetown for hiring a coach with a fair-to-middling record in their own league, I do have to point out that Ed Cooley is the most consistently successful coach in Providence history. What he was doing in Rhode Island was the best and longest sustained run that they had ever seen. And now all of that means nothing to anyone in PC black and white because Cooley just shunned them for a program that looks like the equivalent of a leaky nuclear reactor. I am only slightly joking: There is a very real chance that they have to play the Georgetown at Providence game next season behind closed doors with no fans in attendance for the safety of everyone and everything involved up to and including the Amica Mutual Pavilion’s physical integrity.

I don’t get it, and I’ll bet a solid American dollar that we never hear a good explanation from Cooley as to why.