Gary Fasching certainly has the requisite résumé to succeed John Gagliardi as St. John's coach. Fasching, a three-year St. John's starter, won two state titles as a high school head coach and spent 17 years as a Gagliardi assistant.
And by the accounts of those who played with him, and for him as a coach, he is a nice guy, with solid values, and a disciple of Gagliardi. But all of that didn't mean Fasching's selection Friday was popular with all of St. John's passionate alumni base, many of whom believed the job would go to Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant, whose eight high school state championships are more than any other football coach.
Grant withdrew as a finalist Thursday, citing his desire to remain at Eden Prairie. Whatever Grant's reasons, his decision shattered the dream of many alums of returning the football program to the elite level nationally.
Todd Fultz, the most valuable player on the 1990 St. John's team, said he had communicated with "probably 40 different Johnnies" on Friday, and rattled off texts he said all carried the same message: "I'm shocked ... Sad to think about being average ... Too bad, this would have been great with Mike."
Fasching acknowledged the fractured alumni base in his introductory news conference, saying: "This is not about me. This is about St. John's University. ... I need all the alumni on board, even those who think St. John's might have made a mistake."
Fultz said alums "support Gary, everybody's happy with Gary," but getting over Grant is proving difficult. Fultz criticized the search process, describing it as "a colossal waste of time and ultimately, probably, averted the ability to hire Mike Grant." Grant's supporters felt the school should have been courting the Eden Prairie coach, rather than making him go through a lengthy, very public search process that concluded with Fasching, Grant and former Carleton coach and SJU quarterback Kurt Ramler as finalists.
The search process left some alums wondering whether the school was prepared to commit the financial resources needed to compete with the MIAC's newest power, St. Thomas, winner of 27 consecutive conference games. St. Thomas has four full-time football coaches; St. John's has one, the head coach.
SJU officials maintain prospective coaches were assured that adequate resources would be made available -- including an increased football budget -- but many are taking a wait-and-see attitude. The Johnnies slipped to 11-9 overall in Gagliardi's final two seasons, including 3-5 in the MIAC last fall -- the most conference losses in Gagliardi's 60 seasons there.
Former SJU quarterback Tom Linnemann praised Fasching but added a concern: "What I'm most interested in is what the entire plan is for the football program. I played for Gary, and I know that if he's given resources he'll do a great job.
"But we need to compete with St. Thomas, Mount Union, Whitewater, and to do that you need more than a new head coach. If you're going to win at the national level, you're going to have to have investment in the program."
Joe Mucha, a former SJU football player and retired General Mills executive who headed the search committee, declined to say whether Grant was offered the job. "It's fair to say we had discussions with Mike," Mucha said.
St. John's athletic director Tom Stock defended the search process, saying the discussions helped school officials learn what is needed to return the Johnnies to national prominence. Grant said his withdrawal was not a result of believing the new coach would lack resources or commitment from the school.
"What I told St. John's is that what was really good about this process is that it allowed me to think about who I am and what I do," Grant said. "I came to the realization that I'm an old high school football coach."
That reality is proving difficult for some of St. John's prominent alums to accept.
"A lot of people in the program -- major names -- are in shock right now, that we let this opportunity go by," Fultz said. "If Gary [Fasching] wins, everything will be forgotten. But if he doesn't, it's going to be ugly. People aren't going to be driving up here to watch a 5-5 team."