Ball in Pernetti's court
Following a tumultuous two weeks, Fred Hill Jr. was relieved of his head basketball coaching duties. It cost $800,000 to $850,000 not including the $130,000 in bonuses, according to the Star-Ledger.
While most are happy the Hill era is over, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti has to clean up quite the mess by hiring the right guy as the new head men's basketball coach. And his search needs to go better than the first couple weeks of April.
With three years left on his contract, Pernetti was stuck with Hill. With the state of the economy, he could not just fire Hill and let him walk away with $1.8 million he was due from his salary for the three years. Hill's team showed resilience and improvement this past season. Albeit not that much, it was enough to give the guy that Pernetti's predecessor Bob Mulcahy gave an unwarranted contract extension one more shot. Then fire him after they do not make the NCAA Tournament for less money.
After Hill's profanity-laced tirade at a baseball game on April 1 — ironically exactly a year into the Pernetti regime — it appeared Pernetti had an out. Fire Hill with cause. Firing with cause meant the athletic department would be off the hook of the $1.8 million.
With the saga playing out for a fortnight after published reports of the incident, it now appears that it would have been worth it to eat the contract.
Now Pernetti has to find a head coach that could potentially make or break his legacy. And the timing could not be any worse.
You know that's saying something when the University has not made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991. While the program regressed at the beginning of the Hill era, the team seemed to be making baby steps forward. Future potential was there with a highly touted recruiting class in their second year before Gregory Echenique transferred and it all began to unravel for Hill. Now the program seems farther away from the NCAA Tournament than ever before.
To the new coach's benefit, he will be walking into a situation that has nowhere to go but up and an athletic director that is willing to dump money into the ailing program.
Still the question remains, where does Pernetti go?
The first name that comes to mind is Eddie Jordan. I am not in love with this choice — or any of the realistic candidates for that matter — but it makes the most sense. It is also the safest pick for Pernetti. The fans would embrace the return of Jordan with the hope that a member of the 1976 Final Four team could revive the program.
Luring Jordan away from NBA money is not as difficult as some think. He would be returning to his alma mater. Moreover it's not like he is a touted NBA coach with a .412 career winning percentage. But the main worry is that Jordan has not been on a college bench in about two decades.
That leads me to ask, can he recruit?
There is the bigger name college coaches like former St. John's coach Fran Fraschilla and former Boston College and Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien. While they are good candidates from an X's and O's standpoint, they have had off the court incidents. Hiring a coach with baggage is not a good idea when you just gave some to the coach you canned.
Jordan would still be the better choice.
The last place to look is the mid-majors. Dayton's head coach Brian Gregory could work, but its just going to be hard to convince Gregory to come to a program in the state that the University program is in. He's in a good situation in the A-10 conference. So he can afford to wait for a better opportunity to head to a major conference.
Robert Morris head coach Mike Rice is one of the lower names on the list, but potentially the best choice. Rice took Robert Morris to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992 in 2008-09. Returning to the Big Dance this past season, Rice's Colonials almost beat No. 2 seeded Villanova in the first round.
Rice is also familiar with the Big East landscape from his time as an assistant at Pittsburgh in 2006-07. Being an assistant at St. Joseph's from 2004-07 adds to his recruiting connections in the area. He'd likely be the least expensive too. Also it should not be too difficult to convince him to come to the Big East.
Rice is a gamble, but one worth taking.
Regardless of the decision, it is crucial Pernetti makes a good choice. It is by far the biggest decision of the 39-year-old's short career. Finding a coach to revive the program and Pernetti's a savior. Find the wrong coach and he's making a similar decision in three to five years.
Matt Sugam is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and sociology. His column runs on alternate Fridays.