St. John’s has been on the hunt for a new coach since Chris Mullin announced last week that he was stepping down. The school’s reported top target, Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley, said Friday that he was staying with the Sun Devils. Loyola-Chicago‘s Porter Moser then rejected an offer Tuesday.
Cluess is a New York native who played two seasons at St. John’s, from 1979 to 1981, and has led Iona to six NCAA tournaments in nine seasons with the Gaels.
“I would like to start by thanking everyone for all their support,” Cluess said in a statement released to ESPN on Thursday morning. “I am truly blessed to have so many people say so many nice things. I am however taking my name out of consideration for the St. John’s job.
“When I was unexpectedly contacted by them last week it opened up a flood of emotions. For those of you who have ever lost a loved one you know that there are special places, trinkets and memories that keep them alive in your heart and soul. St. John’s was one of those key places where my love for family has been a part of my life since my earliest memories.
“In my heart the thought of reestablishing the connection to my brothers Kevin and Greg through the possible opportunity to coach at St. John’s and the chance to help bring back their rich tradition in the process made it hard to walk away from. There comes a point where the reality of the situation becomes more clear and moving forward is what is needed.
“I love my players at Iona and being a coach there and I am truly blessed to be able to do what I love at a place I love. I look forward to continuing to grow the Iona program to higher levels.”
Cluess’ brothers both had successful basketball careers at St. John’s, and both died young. Greg was 26 when he died of lymphoma in 1976, and Kevin was 33 when leukemia claimed his life in 1986.
Cluess, 60, is a two-time MAAC coach of the year. Before getting the Iona job, he was at LIU Post from 2006 to 2010.
The coach who replaces Mullin will have a roster in flux. Leading scorer Shamorie Ponds turned pro after the season ended, and Marvin Clark was a senior. The Red Storm’s top recruit, highly touted junior college point guard Cam Mack, recently requested his release from the school, and four-star junior Nate Tabor decommitted in the wake of Mullin’s departure. There are no 2019 or 2020 prospects currently committed to St. John’s.
Meanwhile, St. John’s redshirt junior Justin Simon has signed with an agent and declared for the NBA draft. Simon was one of the best defenders in the country and would have been a top returnee for the next coach. Additionally, sophomore guards Bryan Trimble Jr. and LJ Figueroa have entered their names into the transfer portal.
There is a solid core on the roster, though. Mustapha Heron (14.6 PPG) has eligibility left. Transfers Eli Wright (Mississippi State), David Caraher (Houston Baptist) and Ian Steere (NC State) sat out this past season.
ESPN’s Jeff Borzello and The Associated Press contributed to this report.