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Ex-St. John’s coach Mike Anderson seeking $45.6M, claims school only fired him to hire Rick Pitino

Mike Anderson was fired after four seasons at St. John's earlier this year

St. John's head coach Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson claims that on the same day he was fired, St. John's had already entered advanced talks to hire Rick Pitino to replace him. (AP/Rebecca S. Gratz)

Former St. John’s men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson is taking legal action against the university after he alleged he was only fired from the school so it could avoid paying his buyout and instead use that money to hire current coach Rick Pitino, according to ESPN’s Myron Medcalf.

Anderson was fired earlier this year after his fourth season at St. John’s. The Red Storm had a winning record in all four seasons under Anderson, but never won more than 18 games and failed to reach the NCAA tournament.

Anderson, according to ESPN, was fired for "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," "failure to perform your duties and responsibilities in a manner that reflected positively on St. John's University ... in actions [that] brought serious discredit" to the school and "failure to appropriately supervise and communicate with your assistant coaches."

The university reportedly tried to offer Anderson a buyout for less than the $11.4 million that was left on his contract. Anderson is now seeking $45.6 million, which includes the amount that was left on his contract and an additional $34.2 million in “punitive” damages, per ESPN.

"St. John's manufactured out of whole cloth its preposterous 'for cause' termination of Mr. Anderson's employment with the sole purpose of attempting to extricate the University from its $11.4 million ironclad contractual obligation to Mr. Anderson, specifically so that it could otherwise divert those funds to Pitino," the filing by Anderson's representative says, via ESPN.

St. John’s denied Anderson’s claims in a brief statement on Thursday.

"We dispute the allegations being reported in the media and will vigorously defend those claims in arbitration," it said, via ESPN.

St. John’s hired Pitino on March 20 to a six-year deal after the Hall of Fame coach’s three year run at Iona. Pitino, who left Louisville in 2017 amid a scandal both at the university and in college basketball as a whole, now returns to the Big East after making Final Four runs there with both Louisville and Providence.

According to Anderson, St. John’s already had started advanced talks with Pitino on the day he was fired. In his arbitration documents, Anderson also accused the school of hypocrisy for hiring Pitino after firing him, as Pitino had been “enmeshed in one highly publicized, sensational scandal after another over the years.”