Iona coach Tim Cluess
Photo: Thearon W. Henderson (Getty)

A month after St. John’s snuck into its first NCAA Tournament in four years, the program is once again an absolute mess. Their coach, an iconic and beloved figure at the school, is gone; they have struck out repeatedly in searching for his replacement. A bunch of players are leaving, and the program literally has no recruits coming in to replace them. The Red Storm are suddenly a disaster, and it’s starting to look like it could take years to clean it up.

The trouble began when head coach Chris Mullin left his job last week, citing a “a recent personal loss” as his reason for departure. Mullin was a bit of a disappointment as a coach, and his reported desire to hire disgraced former Rutgers coach Mike Rice as an assistant shows the lack of sound judgement that alienated him from his bosses. But Mullin was also Mullin—a NBA Hall of Famer and one of the best players in the program’s long history, and the face of the team’s last real run of serious success in the 1980s. More to the point, he was a person, someone you could point to and say, “That is the men’s basketball coach at St. John’s University.” Since Mullin stepped down a little over a week ago, the Red Storm have entirely failed to find not just another Mullin but another person willing to fill that void.

They very clearly wanted Arizona State’s Bobby Hurley as a first choice, and they even enlisted Vitamin Water rich guy Mike Repole to help pay for that contract. Hurley passed and reemphasized his commitment to ASU instead, and so St. John’s went after Loyola Chicago coach Porter Moser. St. John’s gave Moser a reported eight-year deal worth something like $18 million, but he turned them down, too.

The next logical choice, one that had been mentioned as soon as Hurley declined to change jobs, was Tim Cluess, a former St. John’s player and New York native who has built Iona into the best program in the MAAC. Let’s check in on how that’s going this morning:

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Hm. There are presumably other available coaches left somewhere in the country, but maybe the better question is whether there will be any players left around St. John’s once they finally get a coach. Because the Red Storm have been in deep shit in that respect ever since assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih—who recruited “virtually the entire roster,” according to the New York Post—left for Nebraska to join Fred Hoiberg.

St. John’s best player, Shamorie Ponds, is going pro. Their next best player, LJ Figueroa, has entered the transfer portal. Mustapha Heron, one starter, is sticking around for now. But Justin Simon has also declared for the draft, Marvin Clark just graduated, and rising junior Bryan Trimble—who played the most minutes of any non-starter last year—is also in the transfer portal.

St. John’s is lucky in that three transfers who sat out this past season—Eli Wright, David Caraher, and Ian Steere—get screwed by NCAA rules and pretty much have to play for the school this year. But since all the program’s other recruits bailed when Mullin left, St. John’s currently has no incoming players for the 2019 or 2020 seasons.

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And now they’ve even lost the Vitamin Water guy. Repole went on Mike Francesa’s show on Wednesday to rant about how far his old university has fallen. Here’s some of what he said:

“I think we need a president’s search first,” the 1991 St. John’s graduate said, referring to the ongoing coaching search to replace Chris Mullin as coach. “They need a new president. The culture at St. John’s right now is toxic. … It’s not fixable with the current senior leadership.

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“This is not a New York laughingstock anymore,” Repole fumed. “We are now a national embarrassment. If you thought Chris Mullin’s 1-17 year [2015-16 in the Big East] was bad, next year’s going to be 0-18. We may not suit up next year. Maybe take a pass.’’

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Congrats to future St. John’s head coach Rick Pitino.