Stormy Times at St. John’s University as it Terminates its Head Men’s Basketball Coach for Cause

Apr 21, 2023

By Dr. Robert J. Romano, St. John’s University, Senior Writer

In May 2021, St. John’s University decided to extend Big East Coach of the Year Mike Anderson’s employment contract an additional six years which meant that he would be leading the Red Storm men’s basketball team through the 2026-27 season. At that time, newly appointed University President, Father Brian Shanley, openly commented, “In my time at St. John’s, Coach Anderson and the men’s basketball program have represented our University in a first class manner on the court, in the classroom and in the community.”

With that being said, however, with two subsequent subpar seasons (2021-2022: 17-15 and 2022-2023: 18-15) that ended with the men’s basketball team riding the bench during the NCAA’s perennial March Madness Tournament, St. John’s decided to end its relationship with the once award-winning coach. In a statement by the University’s athletic director, Mike Cragg, he expressed that “After fully evaluating the men’s basketball program, our University has decided a change is needed in both the leadership and direction of St. John’s basketball. We wish Coach Mike Anderson and his family the best in their future.”[1]

What is interesting about the University’s decision is that per a letter to Coach Anderson dated March 10, 2023, the day after St. John’s was eliminated from the Big East Tournament after losing to Marquette in overtime, it stated that St. John’s was terminating the Coach, not because it wanted to part ways with him based on the team’s overall win-loss record, its poor showing in the Big East Tournament, or because the team never reach the NCAA’s Men’s Basketball Tournament during the Coach’s tenure, but instead, that it was terminating him from his position as head coach for cause. 

As outlined in the letter, St. John’s decision to terminate for cause was based on what it believes Coach Anderson failed to do in the two years since his contract was extended:

a.         “failure to create and support an environment that strongly encourages student-athletes who are in the men’s basketball program to meet all university academic requirements,”

b.         “failure to perform duties and responsibilities in a manner that reflected positively on St. John’s University . . . in actions that brought serious discredit” to the school, and

c.         “failure to appropriately supervise and communicate with assistant coaches.”[2]

Coach Mike Anderson, however, disputes these ‘reasons’ as to why he was terminated and in response stated, “I vehemently disagree with the university’s decision to terminate my contract for cause. The ‘for cause’ accusation is wholly without merit and I will be aggressively defending my contractual rights through an arbitration process.”[3] Coach Anderson’s aggressive posture may be based in part on the fact that at the time of his termination, he had approximately $11 million due to him per his contract. In most situations, if an employer decides to terminate an employee for cause, then it relieves itself of the obligation to pay any future amounts due under the contract. Therefore, based upon both the University’s and the Coach’s positions as to whether being terminated for cause was warranted, the question becomes, when is cause – cause enough?

Per contract law, an employee can be terminated for cause when that employee by act or omission provides a ‘reason’ for the termination. The termination, however, may be challenged and deemed wrongful when the so called ‘cause’ is decided to be ‘unreasonable’.[4] And this is exactly what occurred at another Big East University, the University of Connecticut, when it terminated its former men’s basketball coach, Kevin Ollie, for cause in March 2018. At that time, Coach Ollie, who led the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 NCAA National Championship during his six seasons as head coach, was found by the University to have violated NCAA rules when he allegedly held improper training sessions and allowed former UConn player, Ray Allen, to speak with a potential recruit. In the end, though, an outside arbitrator concluded that the cause associated with Coach Ollie’s termination was unreasonable and ordered the University to pay its former Coach an amount in excess of $11 million.

Therefore, for St. John’s University to prevail at an arbitration hearing, it will have to convince the arbiter that terminating Coach Anderson for cause was reasonable because of the Coach’s above-referenced ‘failures’ while he was at the helm of the Red Storm’s men’s team. This may be a tough hurdle since only two years prior, it extended his contract and openly stated that Coach Anderson and the men’s basketball program represented ‘the University in a first-class manner on the court, in the classroom and in the community.”




[4] The existence and reasonableness of cause is established by the context of the surrounding facts, circumstances of the dismissal, or as defined per state statute or the terms of the contract itself.

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