On August 26, the LSU Board of Supervisors will have its monthly meeting to discuss issues of importance to the university system – and one of those issues, though admittedly minor in the broad scope of Louisiana’s flagship higher education institution, could involve the waste, or savings, of several hundred thousand dollars in the next year.
The public, and specifically the LSU fan base, may have the power to impose some fiscal discipline through simple phone calls or e-mails.
The agenda item? A contract extension for head basketball coach Trent Johnson, proposed by athletic director Joe Alleva.
Johnson isn’t technically paid by Louisiana’s taxpayers, but seeing as though the athletic department actually helps to fund the school’s academic side if LSU wastes money on coaches the effect might be to lose money which could be used on professors or computers, etc.
And where’s the waste? Well, at this point it’s pretty clear that Johnson is going to need a pink slip – and soon.
LSU’s basketball program is reeling from what looks like a mass exodus since the end of last season, a year in which the program finished in the SEC cellar for the second year in a row. Earlier today, sophomore-to-be Matt Derenbecker left the team. Derenbecker is the third LSU player with eligibility remaining who has departed the program this offseason, all of whom were part-time starters in their Tiger careers. First, junior-to-be guard Aaron Dotson left the club, with the justification that he wanted to be closer to his ailing mother in Seattle – and ended up transferring to Utah. Then, senior-to-be center Garrett Green gave up his final season of eligibility and transferred to San Diego State. Derenbecker’s departure was reported this morning to have come due to “personal reasons,” but by this afternoon the Times-Picayune reported he had secured a release from LSU and was considering a transfer to Tulane.
Derenbecker’s departure is the sixth by a player with eligibility remaining in less than four years of Johnson’s LSU tenure. Halting the attrition of the John Brady years was a stated aim of the current coach’s program.
As a result of the departures, LSU will begin practice this season with only 11 scholarship players – two below the NCAA maximum of 13. LSU opened with 12 scholarship players last year, one of whom was center Justin Hamilton, who was ineligible as a transfer from Iowa State – and lost forward Dennis Harris over the semester break to finish with 10 eligible scholarship players. In the 2009-10 season the Tigers played with 10 scholarship players. Not since the 2008-09 season, Johnson’s first year at LSU, has the team filled all 13 scholarships. That season Johnson inherited 12 players from Brady and added one, guard Chris Bass, over the summer.
One of the most basic elements of program management as a major-college basketball coach is arriving at preseason camp with a full roster. Johnson will have accomplished that simple task in just one season out of four at LSU. Not coincidentally, perhaps, that one season will have been his best.
Johnson’s extension was proposed as a necessary function of recruiting – a coach without time left on his contract can’t sell himself and his program to recruits, the argument goes.
To which the response is – what recruiting?
A week ago, the top recruit in the state of Louisiana for this current season, forward Ricardo Gathers of Riverside Academy in LaPlace, committed to St. John’s over LSU. Today, point guard Javan Felix of St. Augustine High in New Orleans – the state’s other highly-rated recruit – chose Texas over Johnson’s program. The loss of each player could be rationalized, but the loss of both in short order indicates that LSU has a coaching staff with a major inability to recruit at a competitive level. Johnson has reeled in exactly one Top 50 recruit in four classes on the job, that being incoming freshman post player Johnny O’Bryant, and with now five spaces available for the current recruiting class to fill he has zero commitments in hand.
For those of our readers who figure that since the early signing period doesn’t start for another three months and thus it’s still early, it isn’t. Of the Top 150 players for the 2012 signing class as rated by Rivals.com, 55 have committed to other schools already. Of that 55, seven have committed to SEC schools. LSU has none and leads for none.
And that’s with five spots available.
Johnson’s slow start in recruiting – of the three players he signed in his first two years at LSU (Bass, Dotson and Eddie Ludwig), none have ever averaged double figures in scoring, which is a decent measure for a contribution at a high level to a team – was explained away as a function of the long lead time required to build relationships with high school players. You’ve got to start recruiting these kids as freshmen and sophomores, the fans were told. By the time they’re seniors in high school it’s too late.
Well, this is his fourth year at LSU. He’s been recruiting Gathers and Felix since they were freshmen in high school. Neither one had any interest in playing for him, and at present you’d be hard-pressed to find any high-level recruit who has Johnson’s program in their top two choices.
This isn’t a surprise. Johnson’s reputation coming from Stanford was that he was a weak recruiter, a reputation explained away by the higher academic standards at that school. In fact, one reason he gave for his excitement about coming to LSU was that he wouldn’t be restricted to taking players with ACT scores of 30 and higher. But his recruiting has shown that excuse to be a false one. And his coaching staff offers zero help to him.
The almost inexplicable power outage on the recruiting trail has brought some fans to question what the coach is doing with his time. This video surfacing two months ago when Dotson had already left, Green was considering leaving and efforts to land commitments for the coming recruiting class were flagging didn’t help…
It’s not that the coach is screwing around rather than doing his job. It’s poor decision-making which has put Johnson in his current circumstances.
Last year Johnson had the opportunity to dramatically increase the recruiting prowess of that staff by hiring Randy Livingston, a former New Orleans area prep legend and celebrated, if tragic, LSU alumnus whose career was short-circuited by knee injuries. Livingston, who cobbled together an NBA career as a crafty player and coach-on-the-floor for more than a decade, wanted to come to LSU as an assistant after Johnson’s former No. 2 man Keith Richard left to take over the head coaching job at UL-Monroe, but Johnson hired Lynn Nance instead. The septaugenarian Nance, who hadn’t coached college basketball since 1999, brought nothing to the table from a recruiting standpoint and has since departed. Johnson replaced him with Nick Robinson, his former Director of Basketball Operations. Robinson has no experience as a recruiter.
Most insiders on the local basketball scene would tell you the easiest way to have landed Gathers and Felix would have been to hire Livingston. He spent this last season as the head coach of the Idaho Stampede in the NBA’s Developmental League.
Johnson is 5-29 against SEC competition in his last two seasons. He’s lost 41 games overall in those two campaigns.
We’re not suggesting he be fired. This team, despite the losses of Dotson, Green and Derenbecker, should be better than the previous two. That’s not the issue.
The issue is that without massive improvement – as in, going from 11-21 last season to getting to at least 18 wins this season – it’s going to be almost impossible to justify keeping Johnson unless he pulls a miracle in recruiting by November. And under those circumstances giving him a contract extension puts hundreds of thousands of dollars in buyout money at risk.
Does it send a signal to the coach that he’s not wanted if he doesn’t get an extension?
Sure. It probably does, if he chooses to interpret the denial of an extension that way. But the real signal is that LSU won’t guarantee job security for last-place coaches without unmistakable evidence of a positive direction, if at all.
LSU’s basketball facilities have undergone a multi-million dollar facelift in recent years, most recently with a swanky new practice facility built on to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. LSU’s basketball season ticket holders are for the first time being asked to pony up for seat licenses, which provides the program with a sizable resource base financially (backed by one of the 10 richest overall athletic programs in the country, of course). There are no excuses for a lack of success in the fourth year as LSU’s head basketball coach; by now, the obstacles Johnson faces are self-imposed.
He needs to understand that unless he produces this year, he’s gone. And if he’s let go after this year, Johnson would only have one year left on his buyout.
When Alleva initially broached the subject of an extension for Johnson to be voted on at the Board’s July meeting, the LSU fan base hit the ceiling. That extension was tabled, only to be brought back for the Aug. 26 meeting with the endorsement of LSU System President John Lombardi.
It’s clear that Alleva, who recently secured a $200,000 raise from LSU following a flirtation with the open Tennessee job, is protecting Johnson – his first hire as LSU’s athletic director. While that may be understandable, putting money at risk on an extension when the facts don’t indicate one is deserved simply can’t be supported as sound fiscal management. And since the members of the Board of Supervisors are appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, and as such are political appointees technically accountable to the public, it is proper that they hear from interested taxpayers on this issue.
Those readers who are moved to do so might reach the LSU Board at the following contact information…
Dr. Jack A. Andonie
1204 Transcontinental Drive
Metairie, LA 70001
Mr. Stanley J. Jacobs
500 St. Louis Street, Suite 200
New Orleans, LA 70130-2118
J. Stephen Perry
2020 St. Charles Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70131
Mr. Roderick K. West
639 Loyola Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70113
Phone: (504) 670-3620
Garret “Hank” Danos
P. O. Box 1460
Larose, LA 70373
Mr. Anthony G. “Tony” Falterman
P.O. Box 1057
Napoleonville, LA 70390
Dr. John George
504 Texas Street, Suite 600
Shreveport, LA 71101
Mr. Raymond J. Lasseigne
P.O. Box 5625
Bossier, LA 71171
(318) 746-3616, ext. 305
Mr. R. Blake Chatelain
P.O. Box 12550
Alexandria, LA 71301
Mr. James W. Moore, Jr.
2390 Tower Drive
Monroe, LA 71202
Mr. Ronald R. Anderson
P.O. Box 95004
Baton Rouge, LA 70895-9004
Mr. Alvin Kimble
7266 Tom Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70806
Mr. Ben W. Mount
P. O. Box 3004
Lake Charles, LA 70602
Mrs. Laura A. Leach
P. O. Box 997
Lake Charles, LA 70602
Robert “Bobby” Yarborough (Member-at-large)
P. O. Box 3374
Baton Rouge, LA 70821
(225) 344-7636, ext. 14
Mr. Ryan Perkins (Student-member)
Office of Student Affairs
P. O. Box 33932
1501 Kings Highway, Room 1-204 B Bldg.
Shreveport, LA 71130-3932