If We're Being Honest, Local Legend Wasn't Even Best Choice From '85 St. John's Squad


By Jason Keidel
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It was a perfect presser and stroll down the years.

Lou Carnesecca swapped his sweater for a suit. All the brass was preening from the dais, pouring platitudes upon their newly-minted savior. He’s even helping them from a “holistic standpoint,” says the athletic director.

So Chris Mullin is more than a man, a player, and Hall of Famer. He’s a shaman, ready to wave his wand and bring the program back to its 1985 ebullience. Mullin has been imbued with magical powers and stratospheric expectations. The St. John’s press conference on Wednesday would be surpassed only by a World Series parade.

What else would you expect? Rex Ryan said all of these things when he landed on the Meadowlands. We heard little more than the expected mantras, about coming home, about his vision for the team, and his adolescent enthusiasm to make his alma mater matter.

It was an echo chamber on Mullin’s greatness. Each suit on the stage sang the expected ballads of the past, present, and glittering future. Nostalgia was the buzzword and blinding feature that obscures a vital truth.

Chris Mullin has never been a head coach.

One reporter called him out on that. And Mullin talked about playing with and against the greatest coaches and players of all time – Bob Knight, Larry Bird, Chuck Daly, etc. Sadly, osmosis isn’t a head coaching tenet.

Mullin made it clear he’s not a symbol or talisman, a mouthpiece or beard from the better days. But he did said they can dominate again. So we’re at least clear about the mission. Mullin assured us that the Red Storm would be the hardest-working, fittest, and a first-class program.

I’ve been called a killjoy, party-pooper, cynic, hack, and other, unprintable nouns when I asserted that this was the wrong move.

Hey, I want this to work. New York City is a graveyard for hoop dreams. The Knicks are a disgrace, a paper-bag-worthy collection of chumps, not champs. A Mullin-led revival would be the perfect tonic for a basketball-starved populous who just saw the Knicks lose for the 61st time this season.

One thing that this fan found rather refreshing is Mullin’s authenticity, and his bedrock Brooklyn accent. You won’t find a more native New Yorker than Mullin, no more hardwired into the game of basketball, or a more gleeful, returning, triumphant alumnus.

Mullin pointed to all his friends, fans, and advisers, like each had just dished a fine assist for a layup. If you’d just beamed down from another planet, you’d be sure that Chris Mullin wasn’t just a great choice, he was the only choice. The pick and the gig is so obviously brilliant how could any of us doubt the prescience?

If Mullin prospers, everyone wins, not just St. John’s. Everyone who watches and winces at our local pro and college clubs can at least take some provincial pride in the Red Storm.

But Mullin wasn’t even the best candidate from their old-school talent pool. He wasn’t even the best choice from 1985.

All you had to do was offer the job to Mark Jackson, who played with Mullin at St. John’s, against him in the NBA, and did one heck of a job as a coach in the NBA. Maybe he refuses the job. But you should have offered him the gig.

Instead we have Mullin, who looked perfect yesterday, but won’t matter much if he doesn’t produce tomorrow.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel