If the Trent Johnson-to-TCU reports prove true, it would probably prove to be a mutually beneficial move for both the coach and LSU.
To say that LSU fans have grown ambivalent toward men’s basketball at LSU would be an understatement.
Actual attendance was nowhere near the listed paid average of 8,661 per game. The student section is often tumbleweed territory.
For those who can remember the half-full Tiger Stadium from the end of the Curley Hallman era, apathy is always worse than pure anger from your fan base. Few LSU fans bothered to try to pry tickets away from the rabid Kentucky faithful when they met in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament in New Orleans Arena.
Johnson has made little effort to win the fans back. He has taken a “if you build it they will come” attitude, which is fine if you build something people believe in, not so good if you don’t. Few LSU fans seem eager to oust Johnson, but few will decry his departure, either.
Johnson started strong at LSU, going 27-8 his first season that included a Southeastern Conference regular-season championship and a second-round NCAA tournament appearance.
But that was a senior-laden team anchored by the likes of Marcus Thornton, Garrett Temple and Chris Johnson. When they departed, two 11-win seasons followed. The Tigers rebounded strongly to go 18-15 this past season and earn a spot in the NIT, but one has to ask, LSU fired John Brady for this?
Johnson has delivered intensity and integrity in his four seasons at LSU. It’s virtually impossible to imagine Johnson being party to the kind of embarrassing mess like the one engulfing Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino right now.
Johnson’s high standards certainly carry with them a sizable amount of currency, and he deserves to be commended. But high ideals only go so far, and with the loss of center Justin Hamilton to the pros, the “reach the NCAA tournament or else” mantra that has already been stamped on next year’s LSU team was a standard any coach would be hard-pressed to reach.
In TCU, Johnson would get a program at a private school closer to his successful pre-LSU days at Stanford, a school making a fresh start as it joins the Big 12 next season.
Without Johnson, LSU would also make a fresh start in a season sure to be a lot rockier without a true center like Hamilton. Apathy would be replaced by excitement, even hope, though ultimately there is no reason, none, that LSU cannot be a consistent NCAA/NIT program on a yearly basis.
The worst part for LSU may be timing. The spring basketball signing period begins Wednesday. Without Hamilton the Tigers — who only signed John Curtis guard Malik Morgan in the early period — have at least four more scholarships to give to max out at 13.
If Johnson is indeed gone, Athletic Director Joe Alleva must move carefully but swiftly to find a successor. One who will ensure that this coaching change is a win for LSU and Johnson.