After over two decades of disappointment and unfulfilled expectations, mediocre results and bottom-half Big East finishes, there is legitimate hope that St. John’s may finally be on its way back to national relevance.
It comes in the form of Rick Pitino, the 70-year-old Hall of Fame coach and native New Yorker who agreed to take the challenging job on a six-year deal Monday afternoon.
Pitino replaces Mike Anderson, fired after four mostly underwhelming seasons, trying to resurrect this once-proud team that last won an NCAA Tournament game 23 years ago and hasn’t reached the main draw of the dance since 2015.
“I want to make it a top-20 program. I want to go back to Louie [Carnesecca’s] days when they were a perennial power, not only in the Big East, but the entire country,” Pitino, a two-time national champion who has led three different schools — Kentucky, Providence and Louisville — to the Final Four, told The Post in a phone interview. “I wouldn’t even consider taking it if I didn’t think that was a distinct possibility.”
Pitino met with St. John’s higher-ups on campus on Sunday, and they went over everything he felt was needed to create a winning team, from improving facilities to Name, Image and Likeness plans and the composition of the roster.
He decided to accept the job that night and leave Iona after leading the Gaels to two MAAC regular-season crowns and two NCAA Tournament berths.
He broke the news to his players Monday afternoon, around the time it was first reported that he was leaving.
Pitino expects to bring his entire coaching staff with him to St. John’s.
That includes former Manhattan College coach Steve Masiello, his assistant for six years at Louisville.
He may choose to retain St. John’s associate head coach Van Macon, who is responsible for recruiting most of the current roster.
“I just thought that I’ve got, hopefully, God-willing, a lot of great years ahead of me, and I said, ‘If I don’t take it, would I regret it every day the rest of my life if I don’t take on this challenge,’ ” Pitino said.
The buzz surrounding this possible move began in earnest slightly before the Big East Tournament.
The Post was the first to report mutual interest between the two parties.
University president Rev. Brian Shanley spearheaded the courtship, described as “relentless” by a Pitino confidante. Pitino has called Shanley a “superstar.”
There had been dialogue through third parties between Shanley and Pitino for quite some time, according to multiple sources. Shanley nearly hired Pitino at Providence 12 years ago — Pitino opted to stay at Louisville — before settling on Ed Cooley.
A key for St. John’s was its location.
Pitino, ousted at Louisville after a series of controversies, wanted another shot at the high-major level, but didn’t want to move from his home in Mamaroneck, N.Y., on the course at Winged Foot Golf Club.
“My wife and I were tired of moving,” he said. “Father Shanley was obviously someone I knew a long time ago.”
Pitino also was drawn to the idea of coaching at the Garden again, as he did as the Knicks coach from 1987-89.
A significant increase in St. John’s games at MSG is expected with Pitino in the fold.
At some point in the not-so-distant future, he would like to play every league game there.
“We will double the season-ticket holders, we will double the gates at the Garden. This is going to be a special ticket again,” Pitino said. “[Fans are] going to see a style of play, they’re going to see a culture that is going to be very noticeable from the first game, and we expect big crowds.
“We expect enthusiasm to be second to none and we’re going to build a brand that goes back to Louie’s days.”
Masiello recently said he thinks Pitino can coach for as much as another decade.
The legendary coach even suggested 12 more years is possible.
He will have his work cut out for him at St. John’s, right up there among his greatest challenges during a brilliant career.
“I’m going to stay in the best shape of my life to make this happen. It’s really, really important to me I go out building St. John’s into a special brand in the country,” Pitino said. “That brand was lost a long time ago. And I’ve got to build that culture and that brand back where everybody is proud to be part of the Red Storm program, and it takes a lot of work to do that.”
“Today with NIL, [being in] the Big East,” he added, “I expect to rebuild in months not years.”
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