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An open letter to St. John's head coach Chris Mullin

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A little friendly advice from a guy with more coaching experience.

He seems confident.
He seems confident.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Mullin,

May I call you Chris? I hope so, because I'm likely to at some point in the future. I wanted to start this note out by saying that I feel bad for you, I honestly do. I mean, besides the fame (I'm told you're a St. John's legend) and the fact that the value of your current contract is more money than I'll make in my entire life, you're kind of in a sticky spot.

Almost comically, and despite the fact that I write on a blog and am thus likely still living in my mother's basement, I have more career coaching experience than you do. At least the team I inherited had a point guard with multiple years in the system and a senior who could really score the basketball. You've inherited a team that lost five of its top six scorers, five of its top six rebounders, everyone who made at least 10 threes, everyone who averaged more than half an assist per game, and all but one of the players who averaged more than ten minutes per game.

On the bright side, you do return a shot-blocking center who made nearly 55% of his layup/dunk attempts last season.

Anyway, things are not as sunny as they could be for you right now. Thanks to the experience of getting to watch Chris Mack take his first head coaching job and learn on the fly at Xavier, I've identified three key areas that a new coach needs to focus on to lay the foundation for success at your level.

Experiment

Are you a man-to-man guy, or do you like to go zone? Full court or half court? Do you want to push the pace or run sets? Do you want ball screen action or ball rotations? Are you going to play defense like a reasonable human being or have your biggest, slowest guys pick up fouls 35 feet from the basket hedging over picks? The specific answers to these questions aren't as important as making sure you fully explore each of them and the hundred other questions that go into basketball strategy. The last thing you want to do is lock yourself into a game plan in your first year that isn't going to be flexible enough to succeed in the long run.

Don't reach to fill the roster

Reports indicate that you have everybody and his brother on the recruiting radar in attempt to drum up some excitement and fill the roster for the school. While this is an understandable sentiment, I would direct you to the cautionary tale of Jeff Robinson, et al. Robinson was a Xavier forward whose scouting reports out of high school showed incredible physical skills but questionable heart. Coach Mack took a chance and signed him anyway, and he ended up being a four-year regret on the roster. The signings of Griffin McKenzie, Jordan Latham, and Jay Canty didn't go much better, and having almost nothing to show for his first two classes left Mack with a dreadfully thin supporting cast for Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons. An unused scholarship is a hole for one year; a scholarship used poorly can be a hole for four.

Establish a culture

Mick Cronin only does defense. John Calipari cares more about sending players to the NBA than winning college games. Brian Gregory steals a paycheck. Chris Mullin ____________________________________. Players, their parents, the fans, and the school should all know what a Chris Mullin program is, on and off the floor.


I hope this helps. I'm cheering for you to win a ton of out of conference games and boost the league's profile, then come into Big East play and do whatever you want as long as you lose to Xavier twice a year. You've definitely got an uphill struggle ahead of you, but fans should take heart. After all, you're undefeated as a coach.