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Back To The Future: Jones Era Begins At LSU

Four for seasons, there was talk that Trent Johnson just wasn’t a “fit” at LSU.  On the recruiting trail, dealing with Louisiana high school coaches, bonding with Tiger fans… whatever a “fit” is, Johnson wasn’t.

For that reason LSU has gone back to its roots and brought in former Dale Brown player and assistant Johnny Jones to lead the program into the future.  Introduced yesterday in Baton Rouge, Jones’ hiring has already brought the Tiger family back together.

Former Tiger Shaquille O’Neal:  “LSU has hired a man in Coach Johnny Jones that any player in this nation would want to play for, because he’s a player’s coach and a man of his word.  My three years at LSU were the best three years of my life, and he was part of my development that I will never forget.  In May, I will receive my Doctorate Degree, and this doctor prescribes LSU and Coach Jones to make their dreams come true.”

Former Tiger Ethan Martin:  “It’s great news.  It couldn’t happen to a better guy than Johnny Jones.  He’s waited his time.  He did a great job at North Texas and I think he’ll do a great job at LSU.  The past with Johnny Jones was great.  Hopefully he can take the past, into the future.”

Former Tiger Rudy Macklin:  “How well do I think Johnny Jones will do as LSU’s head basketball coach?  Well, for starters, he can recruit with the best of them, knowing the state of Louisiana like the back of his hand from all the high school coaches, upcoming players, community leaders and every back-woods small town to big metropolitan cities.  JJ has an extensive reach in states like Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama.  His style of play will be fast-pace, up and down the court excitement — something fans have been hoping to return… With all the attributes that Johnny possesses, I believe LSU’s basketball future will be a bright one.”

And it’s not just ex-LSU players who are gushing.  From media guys like Tim Brando and Dick Vitale to coaches like Bill Self and Mike Krzyzewski, the reviews have all been glowing.

And the Tiger community was — for one day at least — reunited according to Jeff Duncan of The New Orleans Times-Picayune:

“The synergy on the fifth floor of the LSU athletics department building was tangible Monday.  A standing-room-only crowd packed the media room for the press conference to introduce Johnny Jones as the Tigers new men’s basketball coach.  Afterward, a receiving line snaked twenty deep around tables and chairs as fans, colleagues and friends exchanged back slaps, handshakes and hugs with the ebullient Jones.  Among the well-wishers were LSU basketball luminaries Dale Brown, Joe Dean and Collis Temple.

For the first time in a long time, LSU basketball was a united state again.”

Jones did his part at yesterday’s introduction, too, explaining that he was so nervous when AD Joe Alleva called to offer him the job last Friday that he had to walk into a bedroom closet to focus on the call.

His response was an obvious one, saying that post-call he “looked like Muhammad Ali having just knocked someone out.”  Once he exited the closet that is.

“This is a dream come true,” the 51-year-old said.  “Many nights I went to sleep with this on my mind.”

In Alleva’s mind, there’s nary a doubt as to whether he inked the right man to a new five-year contract:

“We contacted a lot of people, and talked to a lot of people, and reached out to a lot of people and interviewed people.  I thought it was kind of comical some of the names that were reported — 99% of those names were wrong.  We talked to a lot of people, and there is no doubt in my mind that we have got the right man for this job at this point in time.  There is no doubt in my mind…

This group right now needs a guy who can recruit, put his arms around the state — the AAU coaches and high school coaches.  We cannot Louisiana talent.  We need to get kids from Louisiana to come to school here.”

So Jones has come home again and on Day One he won the press conference.  Now comes the tough part — winning games.  And that’s the danger in hiring someone who is part of a school’s “family.”

First, if Jones loses, there will be those who quickly turn on him saying that he was nothing more than a political appointment put in place by the fat cats and ex-jocks who run the Tiger Athletic Department.  And if things end badly — and let’s face it, most coaches are hired to eventually be fired — then the split will be that much more difficult because Jones is one of LSU’s own.

Mike Shula and Mark Gottfried went through it at Alabama.  Phillip Fulmer and Johnny Majors went from legends to outcasts at Tennessee.  Joker Phillps is feeling the pinch at Kentucky now.  The list goes on and on and on.  Most every SEC school has an ex-coach who went from beloved son to bad guy.

From the time Johnson left LSU we expected Jones to be the man to land the job.  He was a “fit” in all the ways that Johnson wasn’t.  And now he can say — as he did yesterday — “I am home… I can tell you that there is no place like home.”

But if things don’t go as well as planned, LSU will have an even tougher time parting with an ex-Tiger than it would with an outsider hired purely for his resume rather than his roots.

In general, this writer isn’t a fan of bringing in alums as coaches.  And, yes, that goes against the most common rule of fandom where most school-backers want an ex-grad running the show, someone whose blood runs (insert school color here).

Unfortunately, if/when things go badly with Jones, LSU will have to divorce itself from an alum and from many of those teammates and ex-players and ex-coaches who were bragging about the coach yesterday.  In some cases, schools err on the side of the coach, giving him one or two too many years because of his background… which can also hurt a program.

We hope things work out for Jones and for all the reasons stated above, he clearly makes the most sense for an LSU program that wanted a Louisiana man at the helm.  But we worry that Tiger Nation has set itself up for more heartache should things go bad.

Divorcing from a guy like Johnson?  No one’s going to lose much sleep over that.  But splitting up with a legacy?  That’s much more difficult.  And most coaching marriages do end in breakups.

For Jones sake, here’s a toast to him actually proving that a man can go home again. 




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