Mernagh: Trent Johnson’s Still Hot…Despite Results
Back when he took the LSU job four years ago, Trent Johnson’s career resembled that of a craps player on a hot streak.
Johnson had built Nevada into a decent situation — he went a pedestrian 79-74 there overall — but his last season was the culmination of that building process as the Wolfpack caught lightening and rode it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. That last year saw the school from Reno post a 25-9 record that along with their March run, thrust their coach into the limelight. Johnson did what almost any coach does when the perfect situation happens and things just come together, he bounced for the better offer.
Johnson looked at his first four years in Reno, years that resulted in steady win increases of 9-to-10-to-17-to-18, looked at his star Kirk Snyder who had helped him churn out those 25 dubs about to be drafted into the NBA, and turned to his assistant Mark Fox and said “best of luck brother, I’m heading to Palo Alto!”
The players that Johnson left behind, Nick Fazekas and Marcelus Kemp plus the incoming Ramon Sessions, kept Nevada on top of the WAC for the next several years and Fox was able to eventually grab the job at Georgia because of their efforts. Johnson led the Cardinal to 3 NCAA berths in four years but the ride wasn’t without its bumps. Two of those tournament teams sported only 18 wins and went out in the first round of action, while his final Stanford squad reeled off 28 victories and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Johnson then made what seemed like a really odd move to almost everyone, he left Stanford to go to LSU. The same LSU that had just fired a coach who was but two years removed from leading the Bayou Bengals to the Final Four.
Johnson’s first season was an immediate success as the Tigers went 27-8 and 13-3 in the SEC. His next two years were dreadful as LSU experienced back-to-back 11-20 seasons with a combined 5 SEC wins. This season saw some improvement as they went 18-14 and 7-9 in the league. After the season ended Johnson learned that his best front-court player was going to bolt for the NBA draft, a departure that would make next year’s Tigers extremely undersized. Then, just like that, things started looking up for Trent Johnson.
TCU lost a good coach in Jim Christian because he saw the writing on the wall. The Horned Frogs were improving but were also heading into the Big 12, and it was obvious they weren’t ponying up the resources needed to compete while Christian was still on the job (the man who had hired Christian was no longer in charge). It was just a matter of time before Christian would be getting his walking papers. Christian returned to his roots, and a better job, when he took over for John Groce at Ohio, reviving his career in the process.
With their Christian problem solved for them, TCU inquired with the usual names who wanted nothing to do with a difficult job no matter how much cash they were offering. That’s when Trent Johnson’s phone rang and TCU turned, ironically, to a coach who was arguably in a more precarious position than the one they just watched leave.
Trent Johnson went 58-59 in his four years at LSU and was 25-39 in the SEC.
He just accepted the job as head basketball coach at TCU and will be announced tomorrow.
For that he will be paid $2 million dollars a year.
As one coach so succinctly put it earlier today in a text to me — “It’s a crazy business, guy got his ass beat for the last three years, is on the verge of getting fired, and he gets a new job for two million a year!”
Trent Johnson just rolled another winner.