Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Avery Day!

It wasn't the prettiest of coaching searches, but I think the end results are fantastic.  We publicly swung and missed on Gregg Marshall, but I believe Avery Johnson has an even higher upside than our first choice.

I want to talk a little bit about the hire, how we got here, my evaluation of the search process, and the next steps I think we need to take going forward, but first, I would like to revisit what I posted in the wake of Coach Anthony Grant's firing regarding the qualifications the new coach should possess:

"First, it should go without saying, but I want someone who will represent the University in a first class manner.  This was Coach Grant's strong suit, and this isn't about trading that for wins.  We can win with class.  Second, he needs to have a lot of "up side."  If we can't conceivably picture the guy taking us to a final four at some point, I don't want him.  Familiarity with the region and experience recruiting the south are a plus, but I would also be open to a great recruiter with connections to a more fertile prospect base.  Finally, I want someone who understands the importance of being an ambassador to the program and actively marketing it to the Tuscaloosa and Birmingham communities. "

Is there any doubt after the opening press conference and learning about Coach AJ's background that he passes all of that with flying colors?   

It is true that he has no college coaching experience, and this is still a gamble, like any coaching hire.  It's possible that he will be completely lost when it comes to recruiting, scheduling, and coaching the college game.  It's also possible, and I think more likely, that his name recognition, relentless marketing, and basketball knowledge will have us legitimately competing with Kentucky for SEC and National championships within the next 4-5 years.  

Coach Johnson has literally done more in 6 hours today to market, sell, and promote the basketball program than has been done in the last 10 years.  To say he owned the press conference would be an understatement.  Following that, he's done at least 4 radio interviews that I know of today, and has scheduled other national appearances this week.  Whereas others speculated that a good coach wouldn't want to come to a "football school," coach Johnson recognizes the attention the football team receives here, so he goes and speaks to the football team at practice on his first day. 

In many ways he's the perfect fit for us.  Us die hard Alabama basketball fans have long been told to accept our position as an after-thought to football.  That we will never be a final four team, we are merely a distraction between the bowl game and signing day.  Unfortunately, those sentiments come from a lot of people who claim to be supporters of the University.  Kentucky looks down their noses at us and the rest of the conference.  We've had our moments, though.  Despite the apathy, we've had some good runs and we all know that the potential is there to be great.  Coach Johnson was a short point guard who was undrafted out of Southern University.  He didn't care what others perceived to be his glass ceiling, he ended up hitting the game winning shot to win a World Championship  against the Knicks then went on to win NBA coach of the year taking the Mavs to the finals.  He knows what it takes, and he can get us there.


The end result is all that matters, so I give Coach Battle credit for landing a coach that we are all excited about.  That being said, I don't think this process was handled in the most efficient way.  A lot of this is based on rumors and reading between the lines, but here's my best guess on the unfolding of events:

Bill Battle originally planned to give Coach Grant another year, most likely because he didn't want deal with a coaching search when he plans to be gone soon.  Word leaked about this and the overwhelming email campaign led him to do a 180 and fire Coach Grant.  The problem is, now we have no coach and no real plan in place to find a replacement.  Further, he failed to contemplate that we could be an NIT team, and the NIT selected us before they realized we didn't have a coach.  Gregg Marshall was a natural first choice, given his success and Wichita State being, well Wichita State.

I did not agree with making the push for Marshall so public, but in retrospect it may have played a significant role in attracting Coach Johnson, although I suspect word of our offer would have circulated amongst the coaching community and eventually to Coach AJ anyway.  Obviously Battle flew to Wichita and met for hours with Coach Marshall, but I think he made a mistake by leaving without either getting a firm "no" or having the Marshall's in tow.  Marshall gave indications that he was highly interested, mostly due to the amount of $$ we were throwing at him, and called over the next several days with additional questions/demands, that were mostly agreed to.  However, by leaving without giving him a firm deadline, Marshall was left to ponder the decision in a place where everyone wants him to stay, and it probably would have required bringing the family kicking and screaming.  Meanwhile the Koch brothers ponied up and WSU was able to raise his salary to a competitive level, and that was that.  

Again, we seemingly had no plan B.  Several other good candidates were already off the table, Howland at MSU, Barnes to UT, Smart was closing in on Texas.  We seemingly went straight to plan C, some of the names I was hearing, in addition to the Steve Prohm and Mike White types, were not very appealing at all.  Thankfully, Coach Johnson saved us and got word to Battle that he may be interested.  We came to an agreement Sunday afternoon, but for some reason delayed announcing it until during the championship game Monday night.  We should have announced it at a time when it would generate more press and interest.  


If you haven't watched it yet, do yourself a favor.  He did a fantastic job of selling himself and the University.  It was like he was directly speaking to recruits and potential fans alike.  A few of the highlights:

  He gave credit to his coach at Southern, who pushed him to get his degree and actually discouraged him from thinking about the NBA until after he graduated.

He wants to build a fence around Alabama but will also pursue top recruits elsewhere.  He made sure to drop plenty of names including NBA connections and AAU coaches.  He mentioned AAU at least 10 times. It left me with the impression that he has a much better handle on what college recruiting is all about than many of us want to give him credit for.  

He really talked up the University and the athletic department.  "When Alabama calls, you pick up the phone!"

He talked about how community involvement is of utmost importance.  He said we are going to build a great atmosphere in Coleman Coliseum.  He is going to get to work immediately.

He answered questions about his lack of experience, "You want to go to the NBA?  I'm your guy."  citing his NBA career and connections.  "You want to play 4 years and get a degree?  I'm your guy."  Citing his daughter who is apparently a double-major genius at Penn University.

He said when Pop took over in San Antonio, he said "we want to play defense like bad boy Pistons, and offense like the Chicago Bulls."  That's what we want here, and Duke is the standard.  

He said he wouldn't have taken this job if he didn't think we could win championships here.  It's not about just making the tournament or going to the sweet 16 or elite 8.  As the title of his book says, "Aspire Higher."

"I was blessed with a six year contract, but it's not going to take us that long."

He will be friendly to the media, and we've already seen that.  His media connections and availability are going to be huge assets for us.

"Buckle your seat belts, this program is going places we've never gone before."


This is a great start, but we still have a long way to go, so how do we get there?  It's not enough to just hire an intriguing coach and tell him to work his magic and hope for the best.  We've got to change the culture of basketball here.  By "here" I mean not only the UA program but in the state.  That's not an easy task, but it can be done.  

For starters, Coach AJ needs to be given everything he needs to do the job.  All of those promises that were supposedly made to Gregg Marshall?  Coach AJ should get the same things, if not more.  We need to provide him with a sufficient budget to get a great staff in place.  I would prefer an assistant coach who has previous college head coaching experience.  We need someone who can help him early on with things like scheduling, NCAA compliance, etc.  Obviously recruiting is paramount.  I sense he is looking to get a mix of one and done types along with some 4 year players.  If we can start attracting one and done type talent here, look out!  We also need to recruit the current players to come back, although I don't put as much of a priority on this as some others do.  Players get attached to their coaches, and while I think we have a great group of athletes, if they don't want to play for Coach AJ I would just as soon go short-handed and take our lumps until we can get some guys who will fully buy in.  

You all know I've been harping on the marketing aspect here for years.  Coach AJ will go a long way towards solving that himself, but he's still going to need the support of the administration.  We need to figure out a way to a) Get more students to the game, and b) get them closer to the court.  Then hopefully we can get some of those people who've been buying season tickets for years but never using them to actually show up.  

In my ideal world, I would like to see us break ground on a new arena within the next 5 years.  I recognize that's probably a bit ambitious, but if we can start showing signs of turning things around in the next couple of years, why not?

The poster Finebammer and I don't agree on much.  In fact, we seem to have polar opposite worldviews, and that's fine, the world would be pretty boring if we all thought the same way.  That being said, I want to give him credit for being the first to advocate for Coach Johnson here.  I dismissed it as "somewhat intriguing, but no college experience and doubt he would even be interested."  I know we also agree on the need to change the culture here with support from the administration.  It's anecdotal evidence, but when Finebammer and I can agree on multiple issues, that's a sign the UA basketball fanbase may be more united than ever.

Now, let's go get some assistant coaches and some recruits!


finebammer said...

truly exciting times.

finebammer said...

it's about vision, guys. as i've said before many times, i'm a 'Bama fan. a 'Bama football fan. BASKETBALL fan. i love it. i'm passionate about it. i'll make a fool of myself over it. (and have recently) i've had a vision for years of what it can be.

like others have said here, this grand experiment may not work. may fall flat on it's face. there's a lot of obstacles out there. a lot of obstacles IN THERE. just hiring a coach, whether it's Coach K, John Calipari, Gregg Marshall or Coach Avery, it's not enough. if Duke is the standard, our program has to become a carbon copy. changes must be made. and the majority of people don't like change.

we're all gonna find out real soon how real this all is. i've followed this program for over 30 years. i've seen and heard it all.

but for today, thanks Coach Avery. you're a winner. and before you've coached a single second you've made the program a winner.


finebammer said...

thanx BJ. i am proud. but it ain't about me. i did nothing. (although i do believe there's a particular local sportswriter who's piggybacked the suggestion) i'm proud for our b'ball program.

that presser was a slam dunk. Battle looked awful. sounded exhausted. this search whipped his ass. he said as much. Grant stepped up to the plate and bailed him out.

Coach Avery changed the narrative from what was an AWFUL PR week for the school in the past weeks. nobody talking about Geno Smith now. no Gregg Marshall now.

loud and proud guys.


Msmilie said...

Not a fan of Stansbury on any level. For one thing, you don't want a shady guy joining a staff with a head coach who has no experience with NCAA compliance. Second, I don't need a power struggle between a guy who thinks he should be the head coach vs the actual head coach. Not a fan of this move at all, if true.

Ronald Steele said...

I was fortunate enough to go to the press conference and speak with coach Johnson briefly as well as other people around the program. To say people are excited would be an understatement. I have NEVER seen this much excitement around the program. I didn't grow up in the Wimp and C.M days everyone talks about, in which I hear the fan base was really involved.

He is charismatic and very outgoing which people really like, since coach Grant was more quiet and reserved. He did a good job in the league (NBA), but I don't think you will see anything special from the style of play perspective. I saw coach Ben Jobe there, and if he adopts his style of play I would be REALLY EXCITED (It's a joke there is no way coaches in today's game would give up that type of control).

He will be able to attract really good players which seems to be the whole focus of college basketball now. It will be a HUGE battle between him and Bruce Pearl the next few years in recruiting. That may be more entertaining the games.


Drifter said...

I'm taking a wait and see approach. I was against hiring Lane Kiffin, but am okay with it now.

DJC said...

The power struggle thing concerns me a little, but not the NCAA stuff. I do like that he has head coaching experience and is known as a great recruiter. Let's be honest, we haven't been relevant in the world of college basketball for over a decade now. We are going to have to push the envelope in some areas to get the players we need to get back to where we want to be. As we all know, $tansbury has playing that game down to an art, and to my knowledge hasn't even been sniffed by the NCAA. I like him helping with recruiting and scheduling, as long as he has a minimal role in actual in-game coaching.

Let's not pretend Coach Gottfried was as pure as the driven snow during those days either. I'll put it this way, Coach Grant would have never been able to sign Gerald Wallace or Rod Grizzard.

DJC said...

Thanks for sharing Ron. Could you please give us some insight into Coach Jobe's style of play? I'm not sure I recall watching any of his teams. Or could you give us some insight on what type of system we should expect from Coach Johnson?

My recollection from Coach AJ in Dallas was that he emphasized defense and dramatically improved them on that end of the floor. Of course, back then there was no zone in the NBA, and obviously you don't see as much pressing and trapping in the pro game, so I'm not sure how much stock we can put in his past. Offensively, it was a lot of "give the ball to Dirk and get out of the way," which wasn't a bad strategy for those teams.

I'm excited about his potential in recruiting and marketing the program, but his X's and O's philosophy is somewhat of a mystery to me right now. Thanks.

finebammer said...

and then we have this:

really??? we just made a coach who's never recruited a player and never coached a college game the third highest paid coach in the SEC, and Alabama has to listen to this shit???

citadeltidefan said...

Its so annoying that we have to constantly listen to the typical "alabama's a football school...never been to a final 4" routine. Wisconsin didn't have a very good basketball tradition before Bo Ryan got there yet they just came within a few points of winning the national title the other night. Florida is a "football school" along with Michigan and Ohio State yet you never hear anyone bad mouth their basketball programs. If coaches took such the defeatist attitude as the media about programs being perceived as "bad" or a "football school" or "basketball school" people like Bobby Bowden, Bill Snyder or Billy Donovan would never have taken over the programs they did and had unbelievable success. I guess Stephen Smith thinks Jacksonville University, George Mason and Loyola Chicago to be better programs than Alabama because all of them have been to the final 4. Also he should remember we have a hell of a lot more tradition than Auburn when it comes to bball. I was glad Skip Bayless corrected him and brought up the CM Newton era.

citadeltidefan said...

Of course the typical "alabama's a 'football school' has no final 4s/tradition". I guess Stephen Smith thinks Jacksonville University, George Mason and Loyola Chicago all have better tradition than Alabama just because they've been to a final 4. Also he should actually look into the dumpster fire that Auburn's been in basketball historically compared to us before he starts talking about Pearl. I'm glad that Bayless mentioned the CM Newton era to him.

John Robin said...

As a Shocker fan I hope the Johnson hire works out because I think the Alabama basketball can really take off with the right person at the helm but your going to have to give them longer than 3 years. Alabama was not that bad the last two years and you could see signs it was improving and Grant should have been given longer to turn the mind set around of players and fans. I only hope you give Johnson full support because the next two years will be the toughest he'll face and it may not be pretty during the early stages! Good Luck Bama!

CTider said...

Like pretty much everyone else here, I don't care much for Stansbury, but there is no doubt that he would be a great addition to the staff. I would get over my issues with him, because hiring a coach like him is in the best interests of the program, just like Lane Kiffin. You can't go to the final four on a high horse. Let's focus on winning.

CTider said...

"Battle said he met with Grant after the team went 3-5 against SEC competition in January. Battle suggested making announcement saying Grant would return for next season. Grant said they should hold off on any such proclamation at that point."

"Grant, Battle said, wanted to let the season play out and address the situation after the year. The vote of confidence was Battle's plan to stop the unrest over the program's path."

Water under the bridge now, but found this interesting. Sounds like Grant wanted out. Can't blame him.

Drifter said...

See you in Orlando

finebammer said...

Wimp Sanderson said in a radio interview the Friday after the Miami/NIT loss that the plan was to retain Anthony. later that evening C. Hurt tweeted the "11th hour pressure" tweet.

i really don't know who Battle thinks he's trying to kid. he had NO intention of firing Grant until it became public he intended to keep him via Wimp. it was at that point prrssure was applied behind the scenes.

here's hoping SOMEBODY has a plan for replacing Bill Battle. it amazes they can't come up with more competent leadership for one of the most visible athletic dept's. in the nation.

Msmilie said...

Maybe pump the brakes on the Stansbury rumors? He's been promoted to Associate Head Coach at A&M.

Not surprising. I've thought since he was hired by A&M that he was being groomed for the head coaching position should Billy Kennedy's medical condition (he has Parkinson's Disease) force him to step aside or a change is made (talked to a few Aggie fans seated near me when I attended the game in College Station, and the opinion is mixed regarding his tenure).

DJC said...

Totally agree. I think this was a great hire, and at the end of the day that's all that really matters, but he kind of fell ass-backwards into it.

DJC said...

Congratulations on keeping your coach and good luck to WSU. I've enjoyed our recent series and hope we get matched up in Orlando. I'm planning to go.

I agree that we should be patient with Coach Johnson, and we will. It's going to be hard to sign a lot of guys this late in the game, and we lose our two best players from last year's team, so I won't be surprised at all if we struggle next year. The following year we will have a very young team. I strongly disagree that "Grant should have been given longer to turn the mind set around..." I realize you are on the outside looking in, but he had SIX YEARS! We played in exactly ONE NCAA tournament game in those 6 years.

He is a nice guy, a class act, and I like him personally. I hope he lands on his feet and I think he's a solid coach who will have success at the mid major level again. He wasn't a bad coach here, we only had one truly awful year, but an athletic department with our resources should not settle for being a mediocre perennial NIT team in basketball. Unfortunately, he wasn't willing to play the game that one must play to get the level of talent necessary to win consistently in a power 5 conference. Even worse, he did zilch to promote and sell the program. We had reached our ceiling under Coach Grant, and the product became stale. It is what it is..

Drifter said...

Haven't heard it yet, but Battle's interview on Finebaum yesterday was described to me as embarrassing. Said reading quotes from it doesn't do it (the negative) justice (it deserves). I will be checking it out later today.

Old Skol said...

Tarrant has been granted his release

finebammer said...

i missed it myself but like i said earlier he looked rough at Coach Avery's presser.

Msmilie said...

The same thing happened to Mal Moore with Saban. If Mrs. Rodriguez doesn't put her foot down, I think the perception of Mal Moore would be far different (R.I.P.). Sometimes success, acclaim and respect is the byproduct of nothing more than dumb luck.

finebammer said...

now this:

under attack.