Not Much Fear in New Hires

With LSU's Thursday announcement of hiring Trent Johnson as their new basketball head man, the SEC coaching roster appears to be set for the 2008-09 season. There are two new arrivals in the SEC, both of whom led their teams to the Sweet 16 in the most recent NCAA tournament. Despite that recent success, neither hiring is likely to strike fear in the conference.

South Carolina's hiring of Darrin Horn away from Western Kentucky marks a major shift in philosophy for the Gamecock basketball program. Although Dave Odom was well respected by his peers, at 65 he seemed to lack the desire to recruit at the level of the better teams in the conference. His teams were typically good enough to be competitive, but never reached a winning SEC record in seven seasons.

Horn is 30 years younger than Odom and has made it clear he intends to be more aggressive on the recruiting trail. His style of play will move away from the halfcourt approach of Odom in favor of the pressing defense and perimeter shooting teams like Tennessee and Florida have utilized to success in the past decade.

Horn has all but one of Odom's players currently returning, meaning it will be a couple of years before he really has a chance to begin putting his stamp on the team's personnel. Until then, he has to decide whether he will play his style with an experienced group that features several players who seem ill-suited for it. Also, with only one tournament appearance in five years at WKU after Georgia's Dennis Felton produced three in the same time span as his predecessor, Horn hasn't established he's a consistent "big game" coach yet.

The LSU coaching search to fill the fired John Brady's shoes seemed to have more plot twists than All The King's Men. Once new AD Joe Alleva arrived from Duke in early April, all previous work on the search seemed to be dismissed in favor of a new set of names to pursue. Getting Trent Johnson to leave Stanford for the Bayou seems like a head scratcher on both sides.

By all accounts, Johnson loved being coach at Stanford and did not want to take another job. Despite that, he had just one year remaining on his original contract with little evidence of any eagerness to extend the deal by AD Bob Bowlsby (who did not hire Johnson). With LSU expressing interest, Johnson went to Bowlsby and apparently didn't feel that Stanford was concerned about potentially losing him. Soon after, he accepted the LSU job.

Johnson has spent almost his entire basketball career in the Pacific time zone. Only a brief stint with Rice as an assistant in the mid-90s has ever seen him near SEC country. That lack of connections in the South could prove to be a major obstacle for Johnson. His overall coaching career doesn't come off as terribly impressive either. In nine years as a head man, Johnson's only had two seasons where he won more than 18 games. He's now left for a different job each of those times. Johnson is the first black coach of a men's program at LSU, which may help open some doors with high school coaches inside the state.

While there's always the possibility of one of the SEC's ten remaining head coaches from the past season leaving for another job, it appears unlikely. The most floated rumor involves Kentucky's Billy Gillispie leaving for the open Oklahoma State job, but it's hard to imagine that scenario actually playing out. While the coaching situation now seems settled, plenty of SEC players will be on the move through transfers and early entry to the NBA Draft. I'll detail who's getting damaged the most in my next column.

The Heath Cline Show airs daily from 11-1 on Gainesville's Star 99.5 FM

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