Having covered every football and basketball coaching search in the SEC over the past 4 years — and there’s been a whooooole lot of them — we’ve got a pretty good guess as to how LSU’s search for a new basketball coach will go.
First, LSU will reach out to a big name or two, just to satisfy the fanbase. That’s the usual first step, though some schools — notably Mississippi State with its recent search — bypass that move altogether if they don’t have big enough money to toss around at proven coaches. LSU has cash. So we expect a big name or two to be attached to the job in some way: Shaka Smart of VCU (like Tubby Smith and Jon Gruden, his name comes up when there’s any vacancy anywhere), Baylor’s Scott Drew (hit with some negative NCAA news about his program just yesterday), and Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh. Dixon was contacted by Tennessee last year, for example, before the school fell back to Cuonzo Martin. Ironically, Dixon is a TCU alum and his decision to turn down his alma mater opened up that job for Trent Johnson.
Second, most schools usually go 100 miles per hour in the opposite direction their last coach had the program traveling. Got an introvert (Billy Gillispie)? Hire an extrovert (John Calipari). Got a defensive guy (Sylvester Croom)? Hire an offensive guy (Dan Mullen). Got a guy who can’t connect with the fan base? Hire someone who’s got built-in connections.
Read that last line again. And now know that one of the knocks on Johnson during his tenure at LSU was his inability to fit in with Tiger Nation. Announcing the opening at his school yesterday, LSU AD Joe Alleva said he would hire someone “who will energize our fanbase.”
There are plenty of people with Louisiana connections — Drew and his brother Bryce (Valparaiso’s head coach) are the sons of former Dale Brown assistant Homer Drew. Buzz Williams (Marquette) and Tim Floyd (UTEP) both coached at the University of New Orleans.
And then there’s Johnny Jones of North Texas. The former Tiger is already getting some support from his ex-coach — Brown — who happens to be the second-winningest SEC hoops coach all-time. That’s not a bad reference to have on the ol’ resume. Brown’s quote:
“This is completely Joe Alleva’s decision, but I read Joe’s description of the coach he is looking for, and he described Johnny Jones perfectly…
That’s Johnny. Now you might say I’m just being a proud daddy, and I am. But Johnny can do this job. Johnny grew up in Louisiana. He knows Louisiana. He knows LSU. He knows the SEC. He can coach. He can recruit. This is a unique place. He knows the culture. He would have an immediate impact with the high school coaches. They will love him. He fits all the criteria. And he has charm — real charm. There’s nothing fake about him.”
Regarding said resume, Jones has been at North Texas for 11 seasons. He has just one Sun Belt title but he’s reached the 20-win plateau five times and he’s led the school to two NCAA Tournaments. The bigger plus — his ties to LSU as a player and as an assistant — make him the obvious fallback hire for the Tigers.
His resume doesn’t scream national titles, but he’d be the type of upbeat, homegrown hire a fanbase will rally around. Even his predecessor admitted that over the weekend. Johnson — who was introduced at TCU yesterday — told Tiger Rag Magazine:
“There’s only one person who can come in and get it done, and that’s Johnny Jones.”
As for the search itself, Alleva has not ruled out hiring a search firm — Parker Executive Search in Atlanta just perked up — to aid in the process. But associate athletic director Herb Vincent said yesterday that Alleva is “going to lean on his basketball contacts at least for now… He’s the search committee.”
“Thursday I started making phone calls,” Alleva told The Baton Rouge Advocate. “I’ve been on the phone the last three days, talking to people I know, getting names, checking references. I feel pretty good about where we are in the process.”
Alleva arrived on the Bayou in 2008 after serving as Duke’s AD for a decade. So if Alleva’s relying on his basketball contacts, expect Duke assistant coach Chris Collins to get some strong consideration. Collins has never been a head coach, but he’s been an assistant for Mike Krzyzewski since ’08 and he’s the son of longtime NBA coach and analyst Doug Collins. He’s also considered the Blue Devils’ top recruiter (though how hard is it to recruit to Duke?).
Jeff Capel — another Blue Devil assistant who did well as a head coach at VCU, not so well at Oklahoma — might also get the Coach K seal of approval.
There’s a lengthy list of candidates being kicked around by various media outlets today. In addition to the many coaches already named above, Virginia’s Tony Bennett, Kermit Davis Jr. of MTSU, Morehead State’s Donnie Tyndall (a former Tiger assistant), former college and NBA coach Reggie Theus, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall (who despite Southern roots has never landed an SEC gig for some reason), Steve Alford of New Mexico, Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua, and even Memphis’ Josh Pastner have gotten some pub.
But we keep coming back to past SEC search patterns and to Alleva’s own words:
“Hopefully in a week or so we’ll have a new coach… I’m not going to limit myself, but one of the things I’ve learned in four years I’ve been here is that we need to get the right fit for LSU, particularly in basketball. We need a guy who can unify all of our constituencies, and still of course have integrity and recruit well and do the things you’re supposed to do.”
Every search is different, sure, but most fall into that aforementioned pattern. Aim high first… and we think that will mean a phone call to Scott Drew at Baylor to gauge his interest and his salary demands. Then get someone who’s the opposite of the last guy. Drew would excite the fanbase, something Johnson could not do. But Jones has LSU ties, could rally fans with his personality, and could connect with Louisiana high school coaches, too — again, something Johnson could not do.
We could be way, way off base here, but we expect Drew to be the big name if Alleva’s ready to pony up the cash, if he’s okay with Drew’s recent NCAA scrape, and if Drew believes he can do as well in a 14-team SEC as he can in a 10-team Big 12. That last one’s a big if.
If LSU doesn’t go the big name route, we think Collins from Duke — thanks to Alleva’s ties to that program — and Jones will be the most likely fallback candidates. At that point, it could come down to who would be the best fit. And Jones would seem to have the edge on that front.