The Butler Did It: Bring back Mullin to save struggling St. John’s

By Dylan Butler

So who’s going to be the next coach at St. John’s?

It’s a question I field at least two or three times a week and I’ve heard the same names that have been bouncing around since Mike Jarvis got fired in December.

Paul Hewitt

Bobby Gonzalez

Dennis Wolff

Jimmy Baron

John Calipari

Rick Pitino

Matt Dougherty

Recent, shall we say embarrassing, developments involving the men’s basketball program make the next hire for the St. John’s men’s basketball team arguably the most important in school history.

The Rev. Donald Harrington, president of St. John’s, as well as Athletic Director Dave Wegrzyn need to bring in a person who not only restores the Red Storm’s wounded relationship with local high schools but also gives the alumni, especially those with deep pockets, reason to return to Alumni Hall.

Which is why I say bring back Christopher Paul Mullin.

Is he the perfect candidate? Probably not.

Will he take the job? Probably not.

But the perfect candidates — guys who are expert recruiters, excellent X’s and O’s guys and are well known as builders of men, both on and off the court — are elsewhere.

And last I checked, Mike Krzyzewski isn’t leaving Duke, Roy Williams is pretty happy at North Carolina and Mike Montgomery is pretty comfortable coaching undefeated Stanford.

St. John’s sees itself as a top-5 program, but those days are well in the past. There are probably at least five jobs in the Big East conference alone that are more attractive and when the conference expands — with Louisville, Marquette and Cincinnati joining the fray — that number will be more like seven or eight.

What Mullin might lack in coaching experience — and I think in this case that is grossly overrated — the school would gain in one of the biggest names in St. John’s history, a man synonymous with what St. John’s once was and strives to be, a blue collar gym rat from Brooklyn.

His hire would be a public relations home run. He is a revered by alumni, who remember him as the kid with the deadly jump shot who helped lead their beloved Redmen to the Final Four in 1985.

The media love him as well, and that combination would probably give him a much-needed pass through what would surely be a tough first two to three years.

St. John’s has already taken steps to improve its public image and standing among area high schools. Legendary coach Lou Carnesecca — who was wearing his famous sweaters on the sideline the last time SJU was truly a top 5-program — has been spotted at Cardozo and Holy Cross recently, attempting to reassure local coaches of St. John’s commitment to keeping the best local players home.

Instead of keeping that longstanding relationship with local schools, Jarvis alienated them, opting to go with junior college players instead of trying to keep the best local players home. As a result, the Big East conference is littered with players who could have gone to St. John’s.

There’s Chris Taft (Xaverian), Mark McCarroll (Christ the King) and Carl Krauser (Stevenson) at Pittsburgh; Taliek Brown (St. John’s Prep), Ben Gordon (Mount Vernon) and Charlie Villanueva (Blair Academy by way of Newtown) at Connecticut; Quincy Douby (Grady) at Rutgers; Uka Agbai (Molloy) at Boston College; Andre Barrett (Rice) at Seton Hall; and Louie McCroskey (St. Raymond’s) at Syracuse, just to name a few.

Mullin is a product of the Catholic High School Athletic Association and many of those who coached against him when he was at Xaverian are still coaching in the league. Some of these coaches include Molloy’s Jack Curran, St. John’s Prep’s Jim Gatto, Christ the King’s Bob Oliva and Jack Alesi, the Xaverian head coach who was an assistant when Mullin was in the school.

The key to hiring Mullin, though, is to bring in top-notch assistant coaches, guys who can make up for Mullin’s lack of experience, guys who know how to get from Campus Magnet to Grady and know the best pizza places in between.

So many of the top high school players today want to play for a coach who can help “get them into the league (NBA).”

And who knows better what it takes to get to the NBA than Mullin, who averaged 18.2 points per game in his 16-year NBA career and won a gold medal as part of the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics. He also won the gold in 1984.

Should St. John’s hire Mullin and should he decide to leave the Bay Area and his cushiony front office position with the Golden State Warriors, I have three candidates who would make the perfect staff.

Kyrk Peponakis, Glenn Braica and Ron Naclerio.

Peponakis, a St. John’s grad from Queens Village who also attended St. Francis Prep has turned the Queens College men’s basketball team into a perennial powerhouse in the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference.

Despite being at a disadvantage with some of the toughest academic standards and worst facilities in the league, Peponakis has made it to the Division II NCAA tournament in two of the last three years.

He’s done it with a roster chock full of local talent, like Johnny Sikiric from Molloy, Gary DeBerry from Holy Cross and Rob Villanueva from Franklin K. Lane.

And he’s doing it all as a part-timer.

Braica, a Queens College graduate, has performed miracles at St. Francis College as Ron Ganulin’s top assistant.

Despite no campus and no dorms, Braica has managed to convince a bevy of local standouts to play in downtown Brooklyn. These players include former Columbus star Sean Dantzler, John Quintana from Lincoln and Francis Lewis grad Damien Herard.

Braica, who has also coached the New York City open team in the Empire State Games for several years, is constantly spotted sitting in the wooden bleachers at every high school gym in the city and would be a wonderful addition to Mullin’s staff or the staff of whoever gets the job.

And if there’s a basketball bouncing in the city right now, the odds are Ron Naclerio knows who is bouncing it and how many points that person averages per game. The longtime coach at Cardozo, another St. John’s alum, is renowned for his drills at practice and even works out an NBA player here and there.

The Bayside native has sent two guys to the league, Rafer Alston and Duane Causwell, and three others, Daryll Hill (St. John’s), Royal Ivey (Texas) and Brian Woodward (Rhode Island), are Division I starters.

St. John’s isn’t the same St. John’s it was 30 years ago. It’s not even the St. John’s it was three years ago.

But if Harrington and the powers that be at the largest Catholic school in America really want to make a push to make St. John’s one of the most respected programs around, they’ll make a long-distance call to one of the best long-distance shooters ever.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

More from Around New York