Coach Steve Lavin's St. John's team earned its fifth victory of 2010-2011 against a ranked team on Saturday when the Red Storm took down Villanova 81-68 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. The squad improved to 19-9 overall and 11-5 in the Big East this season, Lavin's first in New York. The Red Storm is almost certainly headed to the NCAA Tournament, and Lavin is a big reason for it.
Before he ever entered the conversation for that school's head coaching job, however, David Jones details today the former UCLA head coach and ESPN college basketball analyst's desire to work at Penn State.
"The entire seven seasons I was out of coaching, that's the only place I ever sent a resume. N.C. State and St. John's called and flew me in."
Both of those jobs came open after Lavin had become relatively comfortable and well-compensated as ESPN's top game analyst. The compensation sweetened in 2006 just before Lavin turned down North Carolina State which eventually hired Sidney Lowe.
But the Penn State position became available days after Lavin had lost his first head coaching job.
"I'd just gotten fired at UCLA. I sent Penn State a resume and left a couple of phone messages. Never heard anything back from them.
"Yeah, I wanted that job."
In his seven seasons at UCLA, Lavin led the Bruins to six seasons of at least 20 wins and appearances in the NCAA Tournament. He finished with a 145-78 overall record and an 81-48 conference record in Westwood.
Penn State decided to hired the now oft-embattled Ed DeChellis instead. In seven full seasons, his Nittany Lions have failed to make the NCAA Tournament and appeared in the NIT only twice. While he still has a chance to get the team to the NCAA Tournament this season, things are likely to get rough again starting next year when Penn State will replace five seniors, four of which are starters on this year's team.
The athletic department's decision to pass of Lavin in the first place is shocking enough. The fact that Penn State stuck with DeChellis over Lavin when Lavin was available and clearly interested in Penn State as late as last March defies logic...if winning games is the goal.
At Penn State, though, the bottomline is far more important than anything that takes place on the court, and Lavin is a gigantic loser in that department.
In 2009, Lavin told Al.com the "going rate" for a major conference basketball coach is between $1.5 and $2.0 million dollars. At St. John's, it's believed he makes between $1.6 and $1.8 million. Contrast that with Ed DeChellis, who's estimated to make around $600,000 and it's clear why Athletics didn't give Lavin the time of day.
He wanted money.
Many fans have long held the belief that drawing a coach with a solid reputation to Penn State would be difficult. Lavin's significant interest in the program should pretty much dismiss that excuse for the its continued mediocrity. This is a matter of dollars and cents, and Penn State is so unwilling to spend them that it didn't even bother inquiring about Lavin's asking price, knowing it was very likely outside its ridiculously low budget for men's basketball.
In all likelihood, Penn State will suffer a defeat or two in the coming weeks that ends its bid for an NCAA Tournament. At that point, fans will once again pile on Ed DeCehllis as the problem. A little over a week after Nate Bauer of BWI outlined the team's relegation to the IM Building while its practice facilities were taken over by Bon Jovi and a career fair, though, the Steve Lavin story should be a cautionary tale for those narrowly focused on the coach.
This is about the institution.
If those wishing to affect change don't put pressure on the right folks when DeChellis leaves the program, they're far more likely to end up with another low budget option than a serious difference maker like Lavin.
Welcome to Penn State's reality.