Mar 6, 2012; Hot Springs, AR, USA; North Texas Mean Green head coach Johnny Jones looks to his bench in the game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers during the finals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament at the Summit Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE
One week after Trent Johnson resigned from the head coaching position for the LSU head basketball coach to accept the same position at TCU, LSU has found his replacement. The LSU Tigers have chosen former Tiger assistant coach and player Johnny Jones to replace Johnson. Johnny Jones will leave North Texas to become the Tigers' head coach. He coached 11 years at North Texas, a Sun Belt school. As I previously mentioned, Jones was the coach I thought was the "favorite" to be chosen as Trent's replacement. I thought the LSU connections, close proximity, and mild success at North Texas would be enough to get him the job, and it looks like I was right.
Before I get into my opinion on the hire, I'll post a little bit of background on Jones. First, as you will hear from now until he is no longer our coach during every game, he is a former LSU basketball player that went to the 1981 Final Four with head coach Dale Brown. After graduation, he became an assistant under Dale Brown and went back to the Final Four in 1986 with the team. Of course, the next part of the story is the negative part that critics of Jones will likely latch onto, that being that Jones was also part of LSU during the bad times such as the end of Brown's career and during the sanctions in the 1990's.
In 2001 Jones was named head coach at North Texas after a short stint at Memphis as an assistant and head coach. The Mean Green before Jones had only been to the NCAA tournament once in 1988 before Jones brought them back in 2007 and 2010. However, North Texas is yet to win a game in the NCAA tournament. Overall, however, Jones has had sustained, medium level success at UNT. In five of the eleven seasons in Denton, Jones has guided the team to records with 20 wins or more. At the same time however, only once in his eleven seasons at UNT has the team finished with less than 10 losses.
The news of this movement came out late on Friday, and the timing seems to suggest that any coaches interested in LSU or that LSU had interest in had made their decisions. Although reports seem to suggest Tubby Smith was interested in LSU, I think it was just a way for him to speed up the process of him getting a new contract at Minnesota. Like virtually every coach at a major school, he has a better team coming back than LSU does for the 2012/2013 season and likely didn't want to risk leaving a good situation.
Overall, I think LSU fans will have very different opinions on this hire. There's so many different types of LSU basketball fans, which is why I think people will be divided on this hire. When I first heard that Trent Johnson was leaving, my initial thought was that LSU would have a difficult time finding a popular, high level coach. I didn't think LSU had enough to offer to get someone like John Pastner, Chris Mack, or Gregg Marshall to leave behind solid teams to rebuild LSU. I thought that LSU would be "stuck" with an unproven coach or an "over the hill" coach that is trying to rebuild their career.
As it turns out, Jones probably falls into the unproven category, simply because he hasn't coached anywhere near the level he will at LSU. While the Sun Belt is a division 1 conference, there's a clear difference in talent level and strategy. With Missouri and Texas AM only strengthening the SEC, winning gets tougher.
My overall feeling on the hire is slightly negative. My overall criticism with the hire isn't that it is Johnny Jones, however. I don't actually feel that he is that bad of a coach, nor do I feel he is unable to coach at the "BCS" level. My criticism is that I think LSU should have been able to do better. Even though LSU was in a very difficult spot with the late departure of Johnson, LSU is a behemoth in college sports and should have thrown their weight around more to get a big time coach. I guess the simplest way to put it is that I feel like LSU is settling. With the profitability of LSU sports in general, I feel that Alleva should have been able to make an offer that _____ couldn't refuse. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, that didn't happen.
That doesn't mean I don't understand the hire, and it also doesn't mean that I disagree with those who agree with the hire. There are some reasons to be excited with Jones as the head coach. I initially thought that having experience only in the Sun Belt would be a negative factor, but on the other hand, having success at UNT may signal that with better facilities he can have better success. In addition to that, I think having an "LSU guy" could be a benefit. LSU hasn't exactly been able to hand pick the best Louisiana talent for a long time, even before Trent Johnson got here, and perhaps having a homegrown coach can be a quick fix to make sure that the talent stays here. Spending over a decade in Texas should also help get some talent to Baton Rouge from the Lone Star state.
With the hire, we now wait to see who will fill in as assistant coaches for the Tigers. There are no leftover assistants from Trent Johnson's staff, and although they are generally not well known, assistants are key to recruiting and to helping run everyday operations. I generally don't have any kind of opinions on assistant coaches, and trust head coaches to bring in people they can work well with that can recruit players from different areas.