St. John's basketball was built on its relationships with New York City high school coaches. Mike Jarvis unfortunately strained those relationships. The first priority for the man chosen to rebuild the Johnnies will be to mend the program's relationship with its community's coaches.
The success or failure of a St. John's coach has always been traced back his relationships with the city's high school coaches. Whether a player chooses to play for the Red Storm or not has very little to do with how big the university's practice facility is, or the fact that the Johnnies play at Madison Square Garden. New York City basketball -- or in other words, St. John's basketball -- has always been built on relationships.
St. John's is headed for its fourth straight season without a trip to the NCAA Tournament. But in hiring its new coach, the program must be patient. The new coach will be building from the ground floor up. It will likely take three years -- at least -- to get back to the level of success St. John's has enjoyed for the past 50 years.
There are a lot of fences to mend in the city. St. John's, through its new coach, must work to get back into the good graces of the city's coaches, who'll certainly be taking a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to the new coaching staff. The area's AAU and high school coaches felt Jarvis was distant, and he could be standoffish at time. A fair comment or not, the St. John's coach can't afford to have his hometown coaches feel that way.
The coach at St. John's must stop by high schools and keep relationships solid even when the school doesn't have a top recruit. He must continue to invite high school and AAU coaches in the New York metropolitan area to practices and games, and spend time X-ing and O-ing with them.
The first thing St. John's new coach should do is to get to know every one of the approximately 200 high school coaches in New York. Someone with local roots would make this task easier, but it's not mandatory. The next coach -- whether he has New York roots or connections -- does need to be somebody with thick skin. He'll also need to be somebody who can go head-to-head with Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun both on the court and on the recruiting trail.
When you look at the great players in St. John's history -- Chris Mullin, Walter Berry, Mark Jackson, Ron Artest, John Warren, Lloyd (Sunny) Dove -- these are all home-grown New Yorkers. Mullin turned down every major college in America to play for Lou Carnesecca. His relationship with Louie was bigger than the size of Alumni Hall.
St. John's basketball has always been a resource to the coaching community. But, over the past year or two, it's gotten to a point where St. John's was put on the back burner in the minds of the best local players.
Every year, there are 10 players from NYC who will play for high-major Division I players. Five of those players will automatically go away to major programs in the country, but five will also automatically stay home. The key for the St. John's coach is getting four of those five kids who are staying home to play for the Johnnies. The other player may go to Seton Hall or Manhattan, but the other four should always be at St. John's.
So, no matter the name of the next St. John's coach, his job starts with rebuilding relationships with guys like Mo Hicks at Rice High School, or Jack Curran at Archbishop Malloy. The new St. John's coach must get out in the community and shake hands. And, while St. John's won't get every top recruit right way, the program's success depends on how its perceived by the community of coaches.
I always felt I had a head start on these relationships when I took the St. John's head coaching job. I considered my move from Manhattan to St. John's one between "departments" of the same company. I'd spent the past four years recruiting the second-best player at a NYC high school instead of the best player. But I still had those relationships with coaches, whose best players I'd now be recruiting.
St. John's next coach won't get those best players until he rebuilds those relationships.