The shoe is fit snugly, laces are tightened and the bow is right like it needs to be. Only thing left is for that shoe to drop.
And it will.
Some time Wednesday night or Thursday morning – a day later if LSU somehow manages to play inspired enough to win its SEC opener against Mississippi State – Johnny Jones will officially be fired as the Tigers’ basketball coach.
It’s quite possible the news had already been delivered to a very good man in a dream job at a school that he loves that has turned so sour. In fact there have been some signals that LSU athletic director Joe Alleva may have told Jones behind the scenes that the ride was over and allowed him to stick it out.
All of those are details that will be forgotten soon enough.
Much of the media, especially those outside of this market that have nothing resembling any accurate knowledge about LSU basketball and Jones’ tenure, will rehash all that went wrong, likely skip over what went right (there was plenty) and ignore the things that he will and should be known for as a man, mentor and father figure.
That has become the world we live in. Fans will follow along and do the same because, dang it, there weren’t enough wins!
OK, early-morning mood aside, the W-L record is a major reason why Jones will soon be job-hunting, but it goes deeper than that. There are myriad other reasons why a program that seemed to be rising in 2014-15 slid so badly off the rails.
Some of those are in Jones’ control -- reasons that he has to shoulder and accept blame for. But there are a lot of other factors that can be attributed to a shaky support system within the LSU athletic administration that included the decision to launch an unprecedented marketing campaign about a player who had yet to play a minute of college basketball --- alienating every single one of his teammates and coaches and essentially tossing a grenade into the middle of the 2015-16 season before it ever began.
All I needed to know about the ‘He’s coming!’ billboards built around Ben Simmons, came in former Tigers’ assistant coach David Patrick’s response to a text message.
‘What do you think of all this attention on Ben?’ I asked via text.
Patrick’s response: ‘I’m a former player. Don’t ask me because nobody would like my answer.’
In case you have forgotten, Patrick was Simmons’ godfather. So, yeah, that marketing thing, while isn’t wholly to blame for how badly things turned south, certainly is a large part of the narrative.
All water under the bridge now, though. Jones’ tenure is at the end and that means LSU’s eyes have to be on the windshield and not the rearview mirror.
Who’s next will be the immediate focus and it is a hugely important step on the path to where the Tigers’ program goes from here.
You will see some of the same names in everything you read – check back with Scout.com later for our in-depth assessment – because it’s what sports media does as a coaching search begins.
Nobody will really have an inside track on how things play out (perhaps already have) because Alleva has effectively plugged any leaks or potential leaks. The only information that seeps out will be what he wants to seep out.
I’m not in Alleva’s inner circle, media-wise, and have never wanted to be. I believe he is a very sharp man in terms of fundraising and balancing LSU’s athletic books. We are friendly toward each other and can sit and talk about whatever small-talk topic pops up.
But I have always taken the approach that if a man in any profession is as adamant about maintaining his privacy as Alleva is, I am not about to try and find a crack in the foundation and cozy up. Nor will I ever dance with the unsavory ethical lines that can yield a closer relationship with somebody in power. Just not in my DNA to get in bed just to collect information.
So the notion of somebody knowing ahead of time who Alleva has decided on or even honed in on, while it will make for delicious water-cooler fodder (do people still gather around the water cooler?) will be total speculation. Again, he will make sure information he wants out for public consumption finds a way out and will keep what he wants under wraps right where he wants it.
I also don’t know if Alleva will be seeking advice during his search (I know he has at least one razor-sharp confidant in Eddie Nunez within the athletic department), and he certainly won’t seek any from the media, me included.
That said, if I were in Alleva’s seat, the first thing I would do is ask Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel if he is ready for another chance as a head coach.
Then I would start with a list of coaches I would call and make them tell me ‘No, I don’t want the job:’ Former Florida coach Billy Donovan (now with the Oklahoma City Thunder), Eric Musselman of Nevada, Mike Brey from Notre Dame, South Carolina’s Frank Martin, Buzz Williams from Virginia Tech, Texas A&M’s Billy Kennedy and Andy Enfield from Southern Cal.
Donovan is undoubtedly a pie-in-the-sky notion, but he and Nunez are close, and there’s always the possibility that the drama of coaching in the NBA could be wearing quickly on a college coaching lifer.
Musselman spent a season on Jones’ staff and has proven in a short window of time at Nevada that he can handle the top job, guiding the Wolf Pack to the Mountain West regular-season crown this season.
All the rest on that list are proven coaches in jobs similar to LSU: Places where football rules the roost. All of them have established their basketball programs on solid footing in leagues where their respective schools are somewhat down the pecking order in tradition, support, resources or a combination of all three.
You will hear coaches whose names come up for different jobs say “I’m happy where I’m at,” and I don’t doubt that at all. If the LSU budget for a new coach is as deep as it is thought to be, though, happiness can be altered.
Swinging and missing at big, established names is certainly a possibility, and what is vital for Alleva and LSU is to know where they are in the market place. A big question that will emerge: Why would Coach ______ leave his program for LSU?
N.C. State and Missouri are already looking for coaches. Kansas State, Illinois and Indiana might be. Those are five programs that will appeal a whole lot more to coaches than LSU because they possess a better balance of those three qualities listed above.
Most of the time, LSU doesn’t have to jockey for position in the pecking order when it comes to sports. This is one of the exceptions.
Alleva will have to juggle how much he can afford with how quickly he wants to pounce, and most importantly, whether he pursues a long-term solution or somebody who might see LSU as a stepping stone. As hard as that might be for some to grasp and digest, it’s simply where LSU is in the world of college basketball.
That isn’t to say the job doesn’t have some high-level appeal.
Whoever comes in should inherit a talented roster mostly intact, especially if Antonio Blakeney does the wise thing and returns for his junior season.
Being in the SEC means a lot of media/TV exposure, which helps recruiting and there is almost always plenty of in-state talent to build a recruiting base off of.
The LSU basketball facilities took a quantum leap forward with the construction of practice gym.
And there is obviously some tradition attached to the Tigers and a massive name currently involved with Shaquille O’Neal.
One major drawback is the persistently wavering support from a fan base that exudes passion in football, baseball and even gymnastics but tends to mostly be lukewarm in basketball. Coaches see that and it can be a major factor in their pursuit of jobs, especially when the N.C. State’s, Missouri’s, K-State’s, Indiana’s and Illinois’ of the college hoops world are also on the hunt.
So if LSU can’t lure the bigger names – which has happened each time the school was searching since Dale Brown’s retirement – then what?
The next tier of coaches on Alleva’s list should be Kermit Davis from Middle Tennessee State, Tim Jankovich from SMU, Kevin Keatts from UNC-Wilmington and young Matt McCall from Chattanooga.
Davis is the elder statesman of that quartet, but what he has consistently accomplished with the Blue Raiders is astounding. Jankovich could well be snapped up by K-State, Illinois or Missouri before LSU ever gets down the road with him. The other two would likely be short-term solutions.
If Alleva is willing to go the assistant coach route with anybody other than Capel, the first call should be to Joe Pasternack from Arizona, a New Orleans-area native who spent four years at UNO as the head coach. Longtime North Carolina assistant C.B. McGrath could also emerge on the radar.
Regardless of whose names come up, there will be plenty of buzz around the LSU program starting in the next few days. Not necessarily under the best circumstances, considering a good man will be severed from a dream job at a school he loves about as much as anybody I have encountered in 13 years covering LSU.
But that phase is about to be complete.
The future is where the Tigers’ focus has to quickly shift.