On Monday Afternoon, LSU will name Johnny Jones its new head basketball coach. Jones seemed to be the clubhouse favorite in a coaching search that only lasted a week. The school met with other potential candidates, some from a bigger named school, but ultimately settled on Jones who had big ties to the university.
Jones played for LSU in the early 1980’s and was on the 1981 final four team. After his playing career ended, he joined the LSU staff as a assistant and was a key factor in helping land some of the big name players that came through the program during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Jones was sent into coaching purgatory following his recruitment of Lester Earl. Though nothing is definitive, It was alleged that Jones organized and/or handed Earl a brief case full of cash. That incident is what help end the Dale Brown era and send the basketball program on a downward spiral over the next 15-years.
Jones resurfaced in 2001 to become the head basketball coach at North Texas. Through 11 seasons he tallied a record of 190-146. The record doesn’t look that impressive, but when you look at his progression season-by-season, you will see that the record looks better than what it seems. During his first five season, North Texas only averaged 12 wins per year, but the following six they averaged 21 wins. He led North Texas to the 2007 and 2010 Sunbelt Tournament championship (won the regular season title in 2010). Prior to his arrival, North Texas had only made one NCAA tournament appearance in 1988. Jones led them to two appearances (2007 and 2010).
Jones’ coaching record speaks for itself, but didn’t Trent Johnson’s before he arrived. The question is can Jones’ success at UNT translate at LSU. Johnson biggest drawback was that he could not recruit Louisiana at all. Johnson never seemed to get on the same page with high school coaches and AAU programs. A lot of this had to do with Trent’s personality, but most of it was due to the fact that he was an outsider, this is an advantage Jones will have.
His 20-year coaching career has centered around the state and surrounding states. His 11-years at UNT should mean he has in-rows into key Texas recruiting hot-beds like Houston and Dallas. Even more important is that he should be able to assemble a staff that can limit the amount of top recruits to leave the state and come to LSU.
LSU’s hiring of Jones is one that they haven’t tired in over 50-years. Usually LSU goes after a successful mid-major coach that doesn’t have ties to LSU. The closest they had come to hiring anyone with Louisiana ties was John Brady and he only coached high school back in the 1980’s. But is Jones still a relevant name with Louisiana basketball?
Let’s face it, only the over 40 crowd remember him as a players. How relevant is he with current players in high school? More importantly will the new hire restore a much needed face-lift into the program, because right now no one cares about LSU basketball.
Its hard not to run into a die-hard LSU fan living in Baton Rouge. Over the course of the weekend I ran into hundreds on Tiger fans, not a single one of them asked me or talked about the new hire. Sure most of the topics revolved around the success of the baseball team, but it surprised me how irrelevant the news of a new basketball coach brought.
Jones will immediately need to hit the recruiting trail as spring signing has already begun. He will try to assemble a staff and try to fill as many of the five vacant scholarship spots on the team. If he can get a few big name recruits that Johnson failed to secure to become a Tiger, this might be the early spark LSU needs to start to turn the success of the program.