April 11, 2008
Baton Rouge, LA (UWIRE) -- The search is over.
LSU announced Stanford's Trent Johnson as its new men's basketball coach Thursday afternoon, ending a two-and-a-half month search and 24 hours of heated speculation linking Johnson to the vacancy left by John Brady's firing.
Joe Alleva, Athletic Director Skip Bertman's successor, made the announcement at a 4 p.m. press conference after what Johnson called a "whirlwind last week."
When asked why he would accept the LSU job, Johnson said it was simple.
"[I wanted] the opportunity to recruit the best student-athletes from across the country and have an opportunity to compete for championships year-in, year-out," Johnson said.
Johnson's hiring follows LSU's fall hiring of LSU System President John Lombardi and more recent hiring of Alleva on Friday.
Johnson said those hirings send a message - a message he hears loud and clear.
"Meeting President Lombardi, I can do the math," Johnson said. "He was at Florida, hired [Florida coach] Billy Donovan - a lot of national championships. I was hired by Joe, who's been at Duke for 27 years. I get the message. I understand - I really do."
Johnson may have his work cut out trying to turn LSU into championship contenders, but he said he thinks a quick turn-around is possible.
The key, in Johnson's mind, is keeping the best Louisiana prospects in-state.
"Recruiting is building relationships and maintaining relationships and hard work," Johnson said. "There's no question that I, as well as the staff, have to do an excellent job - not a good job - keeping in-state players home."
Johnson said a staff familiar with the area will be vital to that task.
Besides building in-state recruiting ties, Johnson will also face the task of working with players who have grown attached to interim coach Butch Pierre.
Johnson said he was interested in talking to Pierre about staying at LSU as his assistant.
"I've known coach Pierre for four years now, and I've known [assistant] coach [John] Treloar for three or four years," said senior guard Garrett Temple. "They've both taught me a lot, and I would love for them both to stay."
Junior forward Tasmin Mitchell, Pierre's godson, agreed with Temple's remarks but said he understands if Pierre leaves.
"Everybody wants coach Pierre to stay on board," Mitchell said. "I would love for him to stay, but that's up to coach Trent Johnson. But whatever coach Pierre does I hope is best for him. He's my godfather first, so I want what's best for him."
While Johnson said he is interested in talking to Pierre, another name was atop Johnson's list as a potential assistant.
"I have nothing set in stone other than I really want to pursue [former Louisiana Tech coach] Keith Broussard," Johnson said.
No matter what the staff, Johnson's job will be to build on a program that finished last in the Southeastern Conference Western Division four times in 10 seasons under Brady.
But before Johnson has even coached a game, he already stands out in LSU history.
Johnson is the first full-time black coach of any men's sport at LSU and the third black coach of any LSU sport with women's tennis coach Tony Minnis and former women's basketball coach Pokey Chatman - something LSU basketball legend Collis Temple Jr. is glad to see.
"Thirty-eight years ago I was a guy that signed to come to school here as the first African-American major sports guy," the elder Temple said. "So 38 years later and a couple of sons coming through this situation, it's really a real sensitive kind of thing. And candidly, I almost teared up when I knew a little while back when I knew that this guy was going to be tabbed to do this."
Johnson said he understands the importance of that piece of history.
"Understand that competition has no race, has no color, and I would like to be known and respected as a basketball coach," Johnson said
Though the Berkley, Calif., native may not overly concern himself with being the Tigers' first black coach, that does not mean he is not interested in LSU history.
"This generation is real familiar with [former LSU and NBA players] Shaquille O'Neal and Chris Jackson, but it's my responsibility ... and our guys are going to know," Johnson said. "Any former LSU basketball players that are living and have a pulse, I'm going to call and make some contact some time this week if possible."
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