Fordham Gets Lucky, St. John’s Gets Cold Shoulder From Paul Hewitt

March 25th, 2010-By Daniel James

Two New York City schools had differing luck this week in their coaching searches.

St. John’s, the flagship college program in New York, failed to convince Paul Hewitt to leave Georgia Tech and now faces a rather short list of quality candidates, all of whom are likely to have attractive options elsewhere.

Fordham, which plays in the Atlantic-10 and is coming off an atrocious season that saw coach Derrick Wittenberg fired mid-season and a 2-26 record, snagged Tom Pecora from Hofstra with a five-year contract.

“I think it’s a great fit because Tom really has a sense of New York,” broadcaster Bill Raftery told the New York Times. “I always felt he had the humor and ability to relate well at a city school like that. He has both the business and the personal sides to it.”

Pecora is a great hire for Fordham. He was also on St. John’s list of desirable candidates. The Queens native was successful at Hofstra and has deep ties to the city’s high school circuit. His move to Fordham is bad news for St. John’s on two levels. First, it means he won’t be coaching the Red Storm. Second, he has the recruiting ability to steal players from St. John’s. poor recruiting was the main bugaboo for the Red Storm during Norm Roberts’ six seasons.

Hewitt, who was St. John’s top choice to replace the fired Roberts, has rejected the Red Storm’s offer and will stay at Georgia Tech, which he has led to the NCAA Tournament five times in 10 seasons, including a trip to the 2004 title game.

“My family and I have developed deep ties to Georgia Tech and the city of Atlanta,” Hewitt said in a statement. “I strongly believe in what Georgia Tech can do for young people, and I’m committed to returning the Tech Basketball program to the level of success our fans have come to expect.”

The Red Storm, which finished 17-16 (6-12 Big East), fired Roberts last week after a first-round exit from the NIT. The administration wanted to bring in a coach with a proven record of winning to make the program competitive again in the Big East, and return the team to the NCAA Tournament, something that has not happened since 2002.

Hewitt fit that description to a T, and he is a New York native, which made him even more attractive to the Johnnies. As has been the case in recent years, though, the local guy turned down the local school in favor of a better set up elsewhere. Now, St. John’s has to find a good coach that will satisfy its fan base from a diminishing number of prospects.

Big names like Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan were tossed around earlier in the process, but neither are believed to be interested and both require larger salaries than St. John’s is willing to offer.

The irony, of course, is that New York City has long been a mecca of basketball. The legendary courts on West Fourth Street and Rucker Park, among others, have served as a breeding ground for some of the best players — and coaches — in America. Pitino and Donovan are from New York.

But New York’s colleges can’t seem to to keep its local talent home and thus, can’t compete with the elite schools. The two live names St. John’s list now are Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg and Cornell’s Steve Donahue. Greenberg is held in high esteem by St. John’s but the Long Island native has made the NCAAs only once in seven seasons in Blacksburg. Donahue is likely to have a couple offers after Cornell’s impressive Tournament run concludes.

If St. John’s doesn’t land the right coach this time around, the Online Sportsbooks will not favor  the Red Storm returning to prominence become next to nil.


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