LSU introduces Johnny Jones
BATON ROUGE, La. -- At the end of the search that resulted in Johnny Jones being introduced as LSU's new men's basketball coach Monday, many names were connected to the job.
"And 99 percent of the names I saw reported were wrong," LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said.
Regardless of how many people Alleva talked to, one thing was clear: None of the other candidates wanted it more than Jones, the former LSU player and assistant coach who built North Texas from a doormat to a perennial Sun Belt Conference contender.
"This is what I've had my eye on," said the 51-year-old DeRidder, La., native after he was introduced as LSU's 21st head coach to a room full of media and well-wishers on LSU's campus. "I've had other opportunities, but this was the right fit."
LSU is hoping it ultimately ends up being the fit that turns around what has been a program prone to extreme fluctuations between success and failure, with more failure than success.
Since after the 1993 season, a year after the departure of Shaquille O'Neal as a player, LSU has failed to string together three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Jones will enter his first season with LSU on a streak of three straight seasons without an NCAA tournament berth.
Those seasons were under Trent Johnson, who left LSU for TCU after going 67-64 in four years in Baton Rouge. The Tigers won the Southeastern Conference regular season championship and made the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2008-2009. It was Johnson's first season, but the Tigers haven't been in the NCAA tournament since and finished last in the SEC in both the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons.
The Tigers went 18-15 and made the NIT in 2011-12, their first postseason appearance since the 2009 NCAA berth.
Jones connects the program back to an era where sustained success was commonplace.
As a player on the 1981 LSU Final Four team and as an assistant coach on the 1986 Final Four team, Jones comes into a rebuilding project with the ability to recall a time when the program was flourishing.
"I remember when every ticket would be sold and people stood outside without a ticket," he said. "That's what I want to bring back."
It hasn't been universally accepted that he's necessarily the person to do that.
There have been critics who said he isn't the big name and big personality to make a program into a national contender. They point to a 190-146 record and 11 years at North Texas. Overall as a head coach, Jones is 205-162, which includes one year as interim head coach at Memphis.
Jones and Alleva worked to dispel the notion that Jones' resume doesn't live up to the magnitude of the job.
Jones spoke of having chances at several jobs, "But I've turned down a lot of opportunities because I know where I fit."
He said some of the opportunities -- as recently as this spring -- were turned down despite being good offers.
"I've had some BCS job opportunities and this year people reached out to me, but it was not something I was interested in," Jones said. "I had a great team coming back (at North Texas), so they weren't something I was interested in."
Jones was not "stuck" at North Texas, he said.
Alleva stressed that it was a national search that landed Jones, not one that focused early on a candidate with strong LSU ties.
"We reached out to a lot of people," said Alleva, the former athletic director at Duke. "And we have a lot of contacts out there."
Alleva had interviewed Jones for the opening in 2008. It eventually went to Johnson, but Alleva said he was impressed and knew Jones could be a candidate again.
This time, Jones interviewed with Alleva on April 10, then had to sweat it out as Alleva continued the search. He finally got the call three days later.
"I got a lump in my throat," Jones recalled. "I told (Alleva) how much I appreciated it and that I wouldn't let him down and how hard I was going to work for him and what this really meant to me."
And what does it mean for a man who saw the glory days from the perspective of a player and an assistant coach?
"A lot of people want to run to, when you talk about tradition or historical programs ... North Carolina or Kentucky or Duke, or some of those they throw out there," Jones said. "Well, that's their deal. Mine has always been LSU.
"Because I think if we come in and do the right thing, when people start rattling off those names, I want to put LSU in that position where they talk about one of the places where you win, you win big and you play for championships in a year-in, year-out basis."
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