The Johnny Jones era has, or in the next few hours will, come to its sad, inevitable conclusion. To be honest, Jones’ fate was sealed last season when he couldn’t bring a team with the number one overall pick in the NBA draft to the tournament. Hell, he couldn’t even get the team on the bubble.
It’s a misnomer to call one season the Ben Simmons Era, but the term will have to do. The Ben Simmons Era effectively killed any chance Johnny Jones had at being a successful coach at LSU. If you attract a talent of that immense capacity, you have to at least win something. Otherwise, why would any other player come here? If you can’t win with Simmons, who can you win with?
To be kind, it’s not like the Jones hire was a total disaster. After the dull failure of Trent Johnson, it made sense to go back to a guy who understood the culture. Jones had Dale Brown ties and demonstrated ability to recruit at North Texas. On paper, it was a solid hire.
And honestly, it didn’t work out all that badly. Jones leaves LSU with a winning record, 90-71. In fact, he posted a winning record every year. This is not just his first losing season overall, but his first losing season in the SEC (though he does have two 9-9 seasons on the ledger).
LSU played respectable basketball, even pretty good, every year until this season. On the flip side, you can’t guide the team to 10-20 (2-16), the worst non-probation season in LSU history since the days of Press Maravich, without repercussions. Jones hadn’t stored enough goodwill in the bank to survive this.
Nor does he deserve the bill for a quarter century of largely mediocre and forgettable basketball. The problems with the LSU basketball program run much deeper than just one coach. This is a program that since Dale Brown’s run of consecutive tournament appearances ended in 1992-93, has done little to acquit itself save for one season.
Since then, LSU has been to the tournament just six times, winning a grand total of seven games. A symbol of the team’s lack of consistency, LSU has been to consecutive NCAA tournaments just once since Dale’s streak ended,.
That one moment of brilliance continues to recede into memory, the 2005-06 team which won the SEC and then went to the Final Four, winning four of those seven post-Dale tournament games. LSU built on that success the next season by going 5-11 in the SEC and missing the postseason entirely.
LSU’s one other unreserved successful season was 1999-2000, 17 years ago. Anyone with even the haziest memory of that team is likely already out of college eligibility. Besides, that team is an even greater symbol of the few successes being extreme outliers in a sea of failure. That 2000 season came after six consecutive losing seasons in SEC play, and was followed by two more.
Jones at least posted consecutive winning seasons in conference play, the first since the Final Four team. The last time before that was under Daddy Dale.
This program is bad, and it’s been bad for as long as anyone can remember. This hasn’t created a generation of angry fans, it has instead fostered apathy, as fans have moved on to baseball or gymnastics.*
*Did I mention the LSU gym team won the SEC regular season title? In front of +12,000 people in the PMAC?
The early rumors for Jones’ replacement are of the generic “AD is talking about pursuing a big name coach” , but it comes down to this: if you were a big name coach, would you take this job? No one has been able to consistently win here since Dale Brown did it in the 1980’s. And honestly, no one really did it before him.
If you fire a coach and it doesn’t make a sound, does anyone really care? LSU basketball sure hopes so. Because the only way the fans come back is if the team starts winning.