(UPDATED) Johnny Jones Is Being Announced As LSU’s Basketball Coach Today…

…and we wish him the best of luck in his new job.

No LSU fan should begrudge Jones his employment today. You can’t hold it against him for seeking his dream job, you can’t hold it against him for using whatever means he had at his disposal in an effort to land it and you can’t be angry about his excitement at being named LSU’s coach today.

His excitement and energy will no doubt be a refreshing change from the dour inaction of his predecessor. And hopefully those qualities will prove infectious and give Jones an opportunity to reinvigorate an LSU basketball program which has been painfully disconnected from its fans over the course of the last 20 years.

LSU fans ought to root for Jones. If he does a good job as the coach it’s best for everyone concerned. We should all want his tenure to be successful, and we should all congratulate him on getting the job.

That said, Jones’ hiring is marred in large measure by the process which produced it – a process which evoked the “bad old days” at LSU many had hoped were gone forever.

They’re clearly not, and for that the people in leadership at the top of the university structure are to be sharply criticized.

It’s quite clear that Joe Alleva, the athletic director at LSU, treated the state of Louisiana and the university’s fans to a sham of a coaching search. It’s quite clear that Alleva spent the last week concocting a ruse designed to convince LSU fans that he was going to conduct a national hire before deciding on Jones.

It’s clear because prior to Jones getting the job on Friday evening, the coaches Alleva talked to don’t constitute anything like a representative sample of the coaches one might expect an SEC school with an $80 million athletic budget to be pursuing.

Published reports not denied by LSU indicate that Alleva talked to…

  • Lehigh coach Dr. Brett Reed, whose team beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament this year. Reed is a promising young coach who’s certainly on his way up, but there is likely a job between Lehigh and LSU;
  • Former New Mexico State and Sacramento Kings head coach Reggie Theus, who received what looks like a courtesy interview given that Theus pulled out of the process shortly after and made a statement along the lines that Jones had the job sewn up;
  • Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, a former Duke assistant who had unsuccessful stints as the head coach at Michigan and Seton Hall but has carved himself a niche at his current employer and therefore would appear the least likely candidate imaginable to take on a major-college rebuilding project; and
  • Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, who may have received an offer from LSU but not one he found acceptable. Very shortly after reports surfaced that LSU was talking about contract terms for Smith Jones was reported as the hire.

Those are the four coaches Alleva apparently discussed the job with. Theus had been the basketball coach when LSU chancellor Michael Martin was running New Mexico State, Amaker was an assistant at Duke while Alleva was there, Reed beat Duke this year and Smith is a “big-name” coach whose contract status is uncertain.

No rising, high-profile coach with a stature which has outgrown that of the program he coaches was part of this search, outside of perhaps Jones. Gregg Marshall at Wichita State was never contacted. Reports indicating that Murray State’s Steve Prohm had been contacted were denied. Reports indicating Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon had met with Alleva were denied, as were reports linking Baylor’s Scott Drew, Virginia’s Tony Bennett and VCU’s Shaka Smart to the job.

LSU has $2 million per year – or maybe a little more – to offer to a basketball coach. There would have been high-profile interest in the job if a true national search had been made.

One was not made, but Alleva spent a week in an attempt to convince the fans otherwise.

Why?

If Jones was in fact the best candidate for the job – if the relevant connections he offers, the enthusiasm as an alumnus, the cultural understanding and the style he brings to the table outweigh resume considerations which would favor other candidates – then surely those considerations were evident from the outset. And if Alleva and those who advised him on the search had determined that now was the time to bring Jones aboard, why waste a week on a sham quest for a coach?

It’s hardly a good PR move to have done what Alleva did. Better to announce Jones as LSU’s new coach one day after his predecessor Trent Johnson’s announcement as the new coach at TCU. While such a move would have been criticized as a “crony hire” or an example of good old boy politics, at the very least it could have been sold as an honest expression of the LSU community’s priorities. Jones could have been announced as the new coach at that point based on – and this is apparently true – the fact he had the best interview of any coach LSU had talked to four years ago before Johnson was hired, the fact he wanted the job more than any other qualified coach in the country, and that he coaches a style of basketball which will both resonate with fans and fit well with the local talent in Louisiana.

Those assets will undoubtedly be presented this afternoon. They would have sounded more convincing had Alleva presented them days ago. Running the fraudulent show he ran last week makes Alleva look like either a liar or a fool, and it presents the perception that an $80 million athletic department he runs had to hire a coach most of the fans didn’t think was the best available candidate because nobody good would take the job. This after spending $14 million on facilities upgrades over the past few years.

Jones can of course overcome that perception by recruiting well and winning. But if he was going to be the coach he shouldn’t have been saddled with it in the first place; Alleva’s job is to give his coaches the best possible chance of being successful, and when it appears quite obvious that this hire was made either as a capitulation to Dale Brown and many former LSU basketball alumni or as an attempt to curry favor with that group for whatever parochial purposes, Jones is going to have to work to overcome a stigma as a “good old boy hire.” And that’s not fair to the coach, no matter how he actually got the job.

A very prominent LSU athletic alumnus passed along an interesting observation over the weekend, namely that “this is all politics. This kind of thing never happened when Mark Emmert was the chancellor here.”

Indeed. One thing Emmert’s tenure at LSU demonstrated in no uncertain terms was that he was a strong, dynamic leader. And when Emmert’s good old boy athletic director Joe Dean attempted political maneuvering on his watch, Emmert was quick to end it. Emmert came down hard on Dean’s efforts to keep Gerry DiNardo in his job during the 1999 season, and then Emmert put a stop to Dean’s efforts to kill the hiring of Nick Saban by presenting his agent with a low-ball offer. And then Dean was unceremoniously dumped as the athletic director shortly thereafter. And when a highly-political LSU Board of Supervisors fought Emmert in his efforts to replace Dean with an external hire, Emmert instead picked chronic national champion and retiring baseball coach Skip Bertman – who had never been a particular favorite of the good old boy set despite his superstar status on campus – for the job and managed to upgrade LSU into one of the best-run and most-profitable as well as winningest athletic programs in the country.

But after Emmert left LSU in 2004, politics has clearly crept back onto the LSU scene. Alleva’s own hiring was a political one disguised as an open process, which is another post in its own right, and the Jones hire was clearly a grotesque display of influence by former head coach Dale Brown and those connected to him – former players being a large part of the equation and Brown ally Stanley Jacobs, whose term on the Board of Supervisors ends in June – being another part. Jacobs is said to have been the conduit between Brown and Alleva on the hire; of all the current BOS members he’s considered the most powerful where it comes to athletics.

LSU needs an Emmert. LSU needs a chancellor who protects his athletic director from political influence in hiring decisions and punishes the AD for engaging in politics where it’s not warranted. The opposite was the case here, and it shows the need for a housecleaning at the top.

None of this should be taken as an indictment of Jones. It may be that he’s the best available hire for LSU, and it also may be that his tenure as the Tiger coach will be the most successful the school has had. If the reports of his recruiting prowess are true, he’ll certainly have an advantage on Johnson – and with the new facilities and LSU’s overall athletic prestige he definitely has a lot to work with. In any event, we wish him all the best.

But politics begets failure. Jones – like the rest of LSU’s coaches – doesn’t need to be beholden to individuals or constituencies within or without the LSU community for his success, because people being owed things prevents the best decisions from being made. And because it appears influence-peddling and the trading of favors have again become part of the reality at LSU, it’s all the more obvious that new leadership is needed. Which includes Alleva, whose time at LSU looks like it will be ending soon if the weekend’s products of the rumor mill are correct, and also Martin and his boss John Lombardi.

Call this a vote of no confidence, and a matter requiring the attention of the seven new Board of Supervisors members expected when terms expire in June.

UPDATE: I’ve gotten a bit of e-mail on this post with people pointing out that Smoke Laval was a Skip Bertman political hire. And that’s a semi-fair point, but there are some key distinctions.

First, at the time Laval was brought in as LSU’s baseball coach-in-waiting, Bertman wasn’t the AD at LSU; Joe Dean was. Bertman wouldn’t know that he’d become Dean’s successor for several months at the time the hire was made. That hire was also made while Emmert was out of town and he was presented with a fait-accompli upon his return. And that means Laval was not strictly speaking a Bertman hire. He was a Dean hire on Bertman’s recommendation. Dean – or another AD with more professionalism – could have easily said he preferred to hire someone more marketable or media-friendly and decided to launch a national search. He opted not to.

Bertman has endured a good bit of criticism about the Laval hire, and not without justification; there was lots of discussion at the time which indicated that Bertman’s endorsement of Laval for the baseball hire was predicated on Skip sharing in camp revenue, and his condition supposedly scared off better-known Bertman proteges like Jim Wells and Mike Bianco.

But it wasn’t Skip’s decision to pick his successor; that was Dean’s decision and Dean’s abdication of his own job in doing so. This is not a distinction without a difference; Skip was retiring and did not at the time have a plan to work in athletic administration at LSU. In fact, one of the things he was considering doing was running his own baseball camp business, and one might imagine that camp would have been based in Baton Rouge. And if he’d done that the effect on his successor as LSU’s coach would have had to be negative, with a corresponding diminution in desirability of the LSU job.

So the camp-money imbroglio wasn’t as simple an example of malfeasance on Bertman’s part as it was laid out to be; agreeing not to compete with his successor’s summer camp was a thing of value he was offering to give up in return for a stake in the camp, and had Laval not subsequently chafed at the expectations of the job and the lack of perceived respect given him it might have worked out for the benefit of all. In any event if there was a failure in the chain of command it was Dean’s – though Bertman’s role in the matter can be argued to have generated some rough justice for him, since as athletic director he later found himself in the unenviable position of having to fire his friend.

Most importantly, though, the Dean-Bertman-Laval baseball hire situation gave Emmert more than enough justification for hastening Dean’s ouster – and his appointment of LSU vice chancellor of finance and administrative services Jerry Baudin to replace him on an interim basis was an especially harsh move. Baudin was the school’s bean counter, and he was immediately tasked with rolling back many of the commercial and financial arrangements Dean had maintained during his time as AD – with obvious ill effects to the good old boy crowd.

Moreover, Bertman’s endorsement of Laval came while engaged in winning his fifth national title; if ever someone deserved the opportunity to recommend his successor it was Bertman. In his later capacity as athletic director Bertman’s coaching hires were distinctly devoid of parochialism, with the possible exception of Pokey Chatman in women’s basketball – and Chatman’s resume at the time of her hiring included a reputation as the best recruiter in women’s hoops, plus a Final Four trip as an interim coach when Sue Gunter fell ill. It’s hard to imagine a serious accusation that she wasn’t qualified for that job, regardless of how off-court behavior might have later sunk her career.

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