TCU coach must create buzz with recruits

April, 10, 2012
FORT WORTH, Texas -- As far as buzz goes, TCU's hiring of LSU's Trent Johnson as its basketball coach Monday didn't exactly shake the Big 12 basketball landscape.

But in fairness, probably only the hiring of hometown basketball hero Jamie Dixon could have done that. And TCU tried hard to get him, though it's unclear how close Dixon came to actually leaving his post at Pittsburgh. It wasn't meant to be (the fact that his contract is through 2018 at Pitt was one of the obstacles). They talked to Buzz Williams, one of the biggest names around thanks to his success at Marquette. They called Ben Howland.

In the end, TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte settled on a coach that fit his criteria. He wanted someone with a track record of turning around a program that was struggling (Johnson did that at Nevada) and someone who had taken teams to the NCAA tournament (he did that at Nevada, Stanford and LSU). But he also wanted someone who would run the program with honesty and integrity. Johnson has done that at every stop.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Chuck Cook/US PresswireNew TCU coach Trent Johnson has taken Stanford, Nevada and LSU to the NCAA Tournament.
Johnson will make $1.5 million base, but I'm told he's got incentives that could push things toward $2 million. It shows much more of a commitment than TCU has made in the past (the departed Jim Christian made around $600,000).

Johnson inherited some good teams at Stanford and LSU, and in Baton Rouge, after going to the NCAA tournament his first season, Johnson's teams struggled the next two seasons before going to the NIT last year with the same number of wins as TCU had under Christian.

What does it all mean? We'll see. The bottom line: The only buzz that matters is on the recruiting trail and, consequently, on the court. TCU loses its three top players next season and the roster has players from all over the place, though not that many from the Dallas-Fort Worth area (or Houston, for that matter). Those are two fertile recruiting areas and Johnson recruited some there while at LSU. It's critical that his staff establish relationships with those coaches. Maybe the move to the Big 12 will get more players interested.

"It's extremely important that some of the best players in the area and in the state attend the university for attendance purposes, for family purposes and you look at the good programs and the good players stay home," Johnson said. "It's about relationships."

Johnson mentioned Robert Hughes at Fort Worth Dunbar and said he's going to go about establishing those relationships. Good. He needs to do that to create a solid foundation.

Johnson said all the right things at his news conference on Monday. Then again, what new coach doesn't win the introductory presser? But I thought Johnson was more impressive once he wasn't standing behind the podium. He's a bit feisty, and I like that. He's confident and I think that's important for his team to see. It sounds like practices will be closed to the media, because he feels like that's his private time with his players. Normally, that might make me suspicious. But I like Johnson's reasoning on it. He's going to run a tight ship and reports from his previous stops say his teams play very hard and with energy.

Is all of that enough to win? How is that different from Christian? We'll just have to wait and see.

The second part of the winning equation is up to Del Conte and the administration. And they're already working on it. The plan is to renovate Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in terms of locker rooms, concourses and the exterior. It's long overdue.

If Johnson can turn things around, he could be here for a long time. Or success could propel him to another job. But if he doesn't succeed, the university has at least sent a signal with the financial commitment that it is starting to get serious about basketball. That can't hurt if and when it has to make another hire.

Johnson knows it takes time but admits he's not patient.

"I'm just a grinder," Johnson said. "I'm a morning, noon and night guy. I wish I golfed. I wish I had some social life. My life is in the gym and sports and my life is based off of making sure kids get a good education and play good basketball and my family."
Richard Durrett joined in September 2009. He writes about colleges, the Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers. Richard spent nine years at The Dallas Morning News covering the Rangers, Stars, colleges, motorsports and high schools.



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