Sun, Dec 21, 2003 - Page 24 News List

St. John's cans it coach

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Perhaps we'll never know why Mike Jarvis, the coach at St. John's, was fired six games into the season. Each side -- coach and university -- told reporters on Friday that they were sworn to a legal oath of silence regarding the specifics of the sudden dismissal.

But this was a stunning story in the saga of a conference losing luster and life force before our very eyes.

On Friday, one of the Big East Conference's cornerstone programs lost one of its high-profile coaches in historic fashion: Jarvis is the first head coach to be fired during the season in the 25-year history of the conference.

Friday's events were less about the woes of the conference, however, than about the problems of one of its founding members.

What did Jarvis do to make such history? St. John's athletic director, Dave Wegrzyn, said repeatedly that the parting was in the best interests of both parties. After an impromptu news conference on the campus in Queens, Wegrzyn said ominously, "Believe me, this was in both parties' interest."

This raises more questions than it answers. Why the rush? Jarvis said he wanted to finish out the season.

Was there a deep, dark scandal, some act of indiscretion? Wegrzyn said there was not.

The simple explanation may be that Jarvis was the victim of an emerging demand for higher standards in intercollegiate athletics.

After running clean programs at Boston University and George Washington, Jarvis took on high Division I and ran into the type of problems that often accompany that level's players.

The senior guard Willie Shaw was arrested on a marijuana possession charge last month and kicked off the team.

Shaw was also suspended for four games at the end of his sophomore season after testing positive for marijuana.

Just days before the 2002-2003 season, Grady Reynolds was arrested on a charge that he attacked a female student in a dormitory. Reynolds was ordered to perform community service and undergo anger management counseling to settle the charges, which will be dismissed in six months if he is not arrested again.

Maybe St. John's action is the beginning of zero tolerance among college presidents who want high-profile programs -- which offer a window on the university -- to be squeaky clean. If that's all there is to the firing, the dismissal sends a good message.

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