Anyone who had Jay Johnson in the betting pool, please step up to the window. After a long and winding search, LSU ended up hiring a guy well off the board. So who the heck did LSU end up with as their new baseball coach?
Well, as we all Jay Johnson was part of the Big 5 recruiting class of 1992 by Curley Hallman. He led the team in rushing in 1993 and… oh, I’m sorry, wrong article.
Jay Johnson started his career in Division 1 as an assistant at San Diego in 2006. The Toreos won two conference tournaments prior to 2006, but this was not a program which was a regular in the postseason.
In 2007, San Diego won its first ever WCC regular season title, and would go on to win three in the next four years. From 2006-13, San Diego would make the postseason six times. I’m not saying Johnson is the sole reason for this, or even the biggest reason, but I will point out that he left San Diego in 2013, and they haven’t been back to the postseason since.
He took over a .500 Nevada team and within two seasons, won the regular season title. Now, the Wolf Pack lost in the Mountain West tourney and didn’t get an at large bid to the field of 64, but it was enough to leverage that performance into the Arizona job in 2016.
Arizona is a quality Pac-12 program, and the Wildcats made it all the way to Omaha in 2012. Since then, though, Arizona could not replicate that success. Arizona didn’t just make it back to Omaha, they missed the entire field of 64 from 2013-15. By 2015, the Wildcats finished 12-18 in the Pac-12 and they were swept by Mississippi St, USC, and UCLA while also dropping three of four to Arizona St.
Jay Johnson took over in 2016 and took basically that same team, which failed to post a winning conference record, and was generally battered around by the top teams in the conference, and took them all the way to the championship series in Omaha.
The 49 wins the 2016 team earned are the second most in school history. He’d follow it up with another tournament team in 2017.
He missed the field in 2018 and 2019, but the 2019 Arizona team averaged 9.8 runs a game and rallied down the stretch with wins in 13 of 14 games to reach 15-14 in conference play, but not enough to earn an at-large bid.
Even in those two seasons, Johnson’s recruiting bore fruit. Six players were taken in the first 10 rounds of the MLB draft in 2018, and another four in 2019.
While you can say Johnson won in 2016 with his predecessor’s talent (though it begs the question why Arizona missed the postseason for three straight years with talent good enough to finish second in the nation), the draft classes of 2018-19 show Johnson’s ability to recruit talent.
When he finally had a team entirely of his own making, what did Johnson do? Well, he made it back to Omaha. Yeah, they went two and Q, but it was his second trip to Omaha while in Tucson.
During Johnson’s tenure, Arizona produced 14 players picked in the first ten rounds of the MLB draft. He coached 20 first-team All-Pac-12 selections, including five this season and the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Daniel Susac.
First and foremost, Johnson’s teams win, but they do it because of their ability to hit. He’s a great recruiting and he has a proven ability to win with talent that other people could not completely take advantage.
He says he’s never recruited Louisiana, but I’m not too concerned about that. What I like is that he’s recruited California, a place that LSU relies on to supplement its local talent with stars.
As soon as he announced that he was taking the LSU job, Mikey Romero, one of Arizona’s top recruits, announced he was following Johnson to LSU.
Johnson inherits a talented roster which includes the Freshman Player of the Year, Dylan Crews. Mainieri was able to take this team to the Supers. If Johnson’s track record of doing better with the same talent as those who were there before him holds, well…
Welcome to the high standards of Baton Rouge, Jay Johnson.