St. John’s president’s Rick Pitino bond a driving force in hire: ‘Fire in the belly’
The plan, St. John’s president Rev. Brian Shanley said, was to find his own Ed Cooley.
A young, up-and-coming coach with Northeast ties who could reinvigorate this dormant program.
But when it became clear Mike Anderson wasn’t going to work at St. John’s and a change was needed, that coach didn’t appear.
“I looked out there and didn’t see Ed Cooley,” Shanley told The Post shortly after Rick Pitino’s introductory press conference at the Garden. “He’s a rare kind of a person. Then I said to myself, I’ve got to talk to Rick. It would be criminal not to explore things with him.”
After nearly hiring Pitino at Providence 12 years ago, Shanley picked Cooley, who turned around the Rhode Island school before leaving this week for Georgetown.
Two Sundays ago, Shanley and Pitino met for three hours, according to the president, and he came away convinced Pitino was the right choice.
“I came to see the passion, the knowledge, the desire was still there, and I thought this is the best coach I could possibly get,” said Shanley, who took over at St. John’s just over two years ago. “What I saw when I met Rick was a guy who still had the fire in the belly and who wants to compete at the highest level, and I don’t think anybody knows more about college basketball than Rick Pitino.”
As word began to spread of mutual interest between the two parties, first reported by The Post during the Big East Tournament, Shanley joked he couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about Pitino.
Everyone implored him to pull the trigger.
That included Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan, a Long Island native who played for Pitino at Providence decades ago.
“Father, I really think you should hire Rick Pitino,” Shanley recalled of a conversation with Donovan. “And he didn’t talk about the wins — Rick is a winner, we all know that — but Billy talked about the impact that coach has had on his life.
“So for me, the decision is who do I want to entrust Joel [Soriano] to and the other players on the team, and I believe that Rick will not only bring a winning culture to St. John’s, but he will be a transformative figure in the lives of our student-athletes, and that’s the most valuable quality that I think Rick Pitino brings to St. John’s. He’s going to change their lives.”
Pitino said he probably wouldn’t have come to St. John’s if Shanley weren’t the president.
Their pre-existing relationship played a major role in this move.
Shanley was also given total control. This was his hire.
“I didn’t really consult with the board members. I consulted with the chair of the board [William Janetschek], who is a partner with me in this whole thing,” Shanley said. “But I think it was really my decision.”
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