It's not official yet, but media outlets are all reporting that Avery Johnson has agreed to become the 20th head basketball coach at the University of Alabama. It's a hire that is definitely outside the box, but one that is being heavily praised by Alabama fans and media.
It appears the job came down to Avery Johnson and Steve Prohm. In the end, it would seem that Johnson's experience at the NBA level and how that would appeal to recruits was the determining factor in giving him the job, despite the fact he has never coached at the college level.
While the hire has shined some national attention on the Alabama program and energized the fanbase, this is still a gamble for Alabama. As mentioned, Johnson has no college head coaching experience, and there is no guarantee that his successes at the professional level will translate to the college game. Who he chooses to fill his staff may turn out to be more important than his own hire. My hope is that he will retain Antoine Pettway, who has become an excellent recruiter in recent years. Bringing other Bama guys into the fold (Roy Rogers, T.R. Dunn for example) would also be a smart move in my opinion.
Johnson will certainly be more media savvy than Anthony Grant was. Johnson's experience at ESPN will be crucial as he attempts to rebuild the brand of Alabama basketball. A busy schedule of radio, television and speaking engagements will no doubt be in his future as, whether he wants to or not, the university appears to have heard the cries from fans who wanted a more outgoing personality in charge of the program and will expect that from Johnson from the beginning.
The biggest pro for Johnson will be his NBA connections. Look, it's simple, every kid who signs with a college has NBA aspirations. Doesn't matter if it's a 2 or 5 star. They all want to play in the league. Johnson's NBA past alone will help him get his foot in the door for recruits that Alabama simply hasn't had a shot at in the past.
Despite the strengths that Johnson will bring to the position, he still has to prove that he has the coaching chops to go up against the best coaches the conference will offer. It's important to note that no NBA teams or college programs were beating down his door when Alabama came calling. Whether that proves to be fortuitous or an omen, only time will tell.
First and foremost, Johnson needs to meet with the current players and sell them on his vision. There is talent remaining on this roster. If there wasn't, you wouldn't hear nasty rumors about former coaches trying to lure those players away. Bring in the right head coach and a staff to match, add in some energy to a fanbase that has been dormant far too long, and Alabama has a roster in place to be competitive next season. There are other aspects of the program that must be addressed by the new coaching staff and the administration, but the pieces are in place to help ease the transition of a new coaching staff while hopefully avoiding a long rebuild situation.
I see positives and negatives in this coaching hire, but I also see upside. Avery Johnson could prove to be the right guy at the right time for this program. As a result, I welcome this hire and will support Coach Johnson and his staff to bring some good times back to T-Town.
You can follow Coach Johnson on Twitter @CoachAvery6