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Lavin and Willard: A Tale of Two Coaches

The feel-good story of the Big East Media Day, if measuring by column inches, was Steve Lavin's triumphant return to college coaching at St. John's. And that is, without question, both heartwarming and astounding.
To see a coach, unfairly dumped by UCLA, land four top recruits in six months at what had been a moribund program will pay dividends for fans of basketball in New York City for years to come.

But I also spent some time talking to Kevin Willard, the new head man at Seton Hall. Willard has had some successes in recruiting so far; nothing like Lavin, the envy of the college basketball world for his initial haul.

Maybe what you see is a classic example of getting what you pay for. Willard is a young coach getting his first shot. Lavin was the big name St. John's sought, bringing his UCLA pedigree.

But there's another side to this, a non-basketball side. Willard has his job because Bobby Gonzalez, a hot-tempered coach whose success in motivating his players was undeniable, got let go. The Hall decided how a coach represented the university was more important than wins and losses.

This is not to suggest that Lavin is a Gonzalez; indeed, his story is worth savoring. But Lavin only got the opportunity because Norm Roberts, a man as well-liked as anyone in college basketball, and whose players gave him everything out of love, rather than fear, was fired.

Progress was slow in coming for Roberts, though he did make the NIT in his final season. And truly, his players have a chance to write his final record in Jamaica: ten of them are seniors this season for Lavin, runners left on base for Lavin.

So as a fan of the Big East, and underdog programs in general, I'll be rooting for St. John's to return to Carnesecca glory. But I'll be rooting just a bit more for Seton Hall, who brought in a credit to the program- just to draw a line in the sand about temperament, not performance.