In this corner of the college basketball world, word of Johnny Jones’ hiring as LSU’s new coach generated a multi-layer ripple effect.
Many longtime Tiger fans are happy with the hire, seeing it as a connection to the glory years of the Dale Brown era when LSU was mentioned among the national powers on a regular basis.
Some vocal fans aren’t thrilled with the hire, either because of that same connection to Brown or because Jones wasn’t as splashy a hire with a national name as they hoped.
Then there’s another faction of fans in wait-and-see mode, a group that seems to be happy for an LSU alum getting a chance. but not sure what he’ll do with it.
Longtime college basketball announcer and sports pundit Tim Brando can understand all those different perspectives, and he adds his viewpoint as a voice of the game from both in-state and national levels.
The 56-year-old Shreveport native was in Baton Rouge and around the LSU program extensively in the early 1980s when Jones was a player and the two have shared a close relationship ever since.
Brando has watched as Jones grew from an LSU assistant coach into a head coach at North Texas, where he climbed out of Brown’s shadow. Likewise, Brando and his family still live in Shreveport, so he has kept his finger on the pulse of the Tigers during the tenures of John Brady and Trent Johnson.
Bottom line: Brando has seen LSU in its heyday, he has seen the peaks and valleys under Brady and he watched as the program eroded to its current condition as Johnson struggled to recruit, especially in-state players, to sustain success.
Because of all those factors, Brando said he believes LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva made the only hire he could have when Johnson abruptly resigned to take the TCU job.
“I think it’s the only possible really quality hire that LSU could make at this point because of the where the program has fallen to and the passion Johnny has for his alma mater and the people of Louisiana,” Brando said.
For that passion to work in his new position, Jones will have to apply it to his relationships with AAU and high school coaches.
During his tenure at North Texas, Jones regularly combed the Louisiana prep ranks for players and has maintained ties with coaches around the state – many of whom played for or coached with Brown or were team managers.
Reconnecting with those coaches – particularly on the AAU circuit and the teams in South Louisiana that churn out Division I talent – are paramount to how successful Jones can be, both immediately and in the long term.
“You’ve got to have strong relationships with AAU coaches and high school coaches, especially in South Louisiana,” Brando said. “As good a coach as Trent was, I don’t think he ever did that.
“Johnny speaks their language and I have no doubts he can handle it and make it work much better.”
As important as building relationships on the recruiting trail will be, rebuilding a bridge to a fan base – much of which feels disenfranchised – also has to be high on Jones’ agenda.
Privately Johnson was effective at building relationships in his four-year tenure, but his circle of close friends was a small one and he wasn’t a regular at the Sixth Man Club meetings designed for fans to mingle with the coach.
Brady was more involved than Johnson, and he had more of a social network in Baton Rouge and around the state. But his support eroded because he could turn irascible when he was challenged on where the program was headed.
Jones won’t have to work hard to improve relations because of his personality – Brando said as a player he had charisma on par with former NBA stars Isaiah Thomas and Magic Johnson – and it doesn’t hurt that he had a front-row seat next to one of the best salesmen/coaches who has ever roamed a college sideline.
“Johnny understands that the LSU job is much more than putting a whistle around your neck and showing up for practice,” Brando said. “
"He saw up close and personal what Dale had to do to stir up interest in basketball in Baton Rouge and keep that interest and I really think Johnny, maybe in a different way because he’s a different personality, will be able to generate a lot of excitement and enthusiasm.”