Trent Johnson was formally introduced Monday as the 21st head coach of the TCU men’s basketball program. Johnson will replace Jim Christian, who accepted the head job at Ohio University last week. Here’s a quick look at a couple positives and negatives from the hire:
Johnson, 55, comes to TCU with a big-time program pedigree and a history of starting from the ground up.
As an assistant under Mike Montgomery at Stanford from 1996-1999, Johnson helped guide the Cardinal to three NCAA tournament appearances, including a Final Four berth in 1998.
After taking the head job at Nevada in 1999, Johnson led the program to a winning season in his second year and to an NIT berth in 2003. Then, in 2004, Johnson and the Wolfpack broke through, going 25-9 and reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament after beating 2nd-seeded Gonzaga in the second round. Nevada, a 10-seed, was making its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1985.
Johnson returned to Stanford the following year, this time as the head coach, replacing Montgomery, who left for the NBA. After leading the Cardinal to NCAA tournament first-round berths in 2005 and 2007, Johnson took Stanford to the Sweet 16 in 2008 as three-seed.
This success continued the next year at LSU for Johnson, who guided the Tigers to an SEC regular season title and the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual champion North Carolina.
What does all that mean? Johnson is no stranger to high-pressure situations nor the big stage.
Also, finding a coach who’s just as focused on aspects away from the court, such as academics and graduation rates, was a goal of the coaching search, TCU athletics director Chris Del Conte said last week when discussing the search at the university Faculty Senate meeting. Johnson apparently fit the bill.
Outside of the his pair of Sweet 16 trips in his final years at Nevada and Stanford and his first year at LSU, Johnson’s resume has been mediocre at best. Granted, his first three seasons in Reno were building years, but he inherited a strong program at Stanford and couldn’t get past the first round of the NCAAs until his fourth year.
What’s more of a mystery, might be his tenure at LSU.
Johnson took an LSU team that went 13-18 the year before to a SEC regular season title and a 27-8 record in 2009. After that, the bottom dropped out.
The Tigers went 11-20 in back-to-back seasons, finishing last in the SEC both times. This year the team improved to 18-15 and made the NIT.
Another curious aspect of Johnson is his journeyman past. For obvious reasons of upward mobility, Johnson’s move from Nevada to Stanford made sense. His surprising departure to LSU in 2008 didn’t.
For someone who went to high school in Seattle, played college ball at Boise State and coached a majority of his career on the West Coast, leaving an already-established, Sweet 16 program for a school in the Deep South didn’t quite add up.
Perhaps Palo Alto, and now Baton Rouge, simply weren’t the right fit for Johnson. For TCU’s sake, hopefully Fort Worth is.