Trent Johnson attended the annual men's basketball team banquet this evening and is taking a red-eye flight to Louisiana tonight. He hasn't signed a contract yet, but should do so with LSU tomorrow, for an estimated $1 million to $1.2 million annually.
He will thus become the head coach at a school he turned down multiple times in recent days, waiting in vain for a contract extension at half the salary that Stanford Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby never offered, according to a source very close to Johnson and the program.
"I think a lot came down to he was not wanted," the source said. "When you get a feeling of not being wanted, no matter how much you love your company or your job, if your boss doesn't love you, that's not a good place to be in."
Earlier this week, Bowlsby verbally offered Johnson a contract about half the length of the five-year deal he wanted, according to the source. For Johnson though, it was too little, too late. The two said they would continue discussions, but never did.
Still, the source left open the idea that a 23rd-hour intervention might keep Johnson on the Farm.
"I think it would take someone else than Bob Bowlsby getting involved," he said. "My take is he feels so slighted in terms of a lack of respect. He's an incredibly loyal person, just very honest and a good person, and I don't think he likes being treated that way, nor would I."
As of press time, Bowlsby wanted to meet
with Johnson tonight, according to the source. No direct acknowledgement of the
ongoing situation was made at the banquet, but Johnson choked up upon receiving
a standing ovation.
A chilly relationship
As the source intonated, the rumors that have been flying around TheBootleg.com are absolutely correct, at least from Johnson's point of view. That Bob Bowlsby never extended his contract forced Johnson to search for, and ultimately sign with, another school.
"Bowlsby and Trent were back on campus together," the source said. "And it's also easy to get on a plane, San Antonio and Florida are not that far if it's a priority. And if the Pac-10 Coach of a Year isn't a priority, then that's a telltale sign to maybe think about your job situation."
While Bowlsby never reached out to Johnson, Johnson's pride also kept him from speaking to his boss.
"The head basketball coach should not have to call up when so many things have been promised," the source said. "That's what the intern has to do to ask for a raise, not the head basketball coach."
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the two men rarely talked. It was a relationship not so much cold as nonexistent.
"[Johnson leaving] is not that surprising
to someone who knows what their relationship has been like since day one," the
source said. "From what I understand, every conversation is fine, but they're
just infrequent. For whatever reason, [Bowlsby] will go months, months, months,
without meeting Coach Johnson. Of course meetings were canceled and rescheduled,
blah, blah, blah, they're both busy. But some of us, we assumed, he's coached
here two times and won twice, it seems like a pretty easy
The impact of Montgomery
While Johnson's thought process is pretty obvious, Bowlsby's is more of a mystery. The source and this reporter speculated, as many fans undoubtedly have today, that perhaps his target all along was former head coach Mike Montgomery.
"That is what a lot of us thought," the source said. "Slowplay Trent, who gets frustrated and leaves, and then hire Monty. I actually wonder if Monty would have done that. He didn't take the Santa Clara job because he thought their coach got a raw deal. I don't know. He does like Trent.
"I would be shocked if that wasn't in Bowlsby's consideration: ‘I've got a great failsafe here.' But if I were Bowlsby and the second I heard Monty was going to Cal, I would have been on the phone, the plane, a hot air balloon getting the contract signed, because now I don't have a failsafe."
The source also lamented that Bowlsby never directly communicated his intentions to Johnson.
"If you had someone you wanted, you should have gone to Trent and said, ‘I don't think I can offer you an extension. I encourage you to go look for other opportunities. You can take a job offer now or in a year, whatever you want.' Especially because he was the Pac-10 Coach of the Year with a squeaky-clean record, he could get a job easily. And then go hire your guy, instead of the whole passive-aggressive thing.
"So other than Bob Bowlsby wanting to bring in his own person or thinking he's going to get leverage, who the hell knows? Maybe he thought he could just dictate the terms, but misread it. Maybe it's as simple as that. Who the hell knows?"
For their parts, Johnson and Montgomery enjoyed a good relationship, the source said.
"I think it bothered other people more so
than Trent that Monty was around," he said. "I know donors and other players
were upset that he came back, particularly without Bowlsby asking Trent about
having him back around, but Trent never was upset or disappointed that he was
back, and even tried to take advantage of the fact that he was around. I
wouldn't say they're best friends. I also know their wives get along very well.
But he never told me he had an issue with Monty being around, and he's always
been very honest with me."
Several LSU insiders have told TheBootleg.com today that Johnson figures to earn between $1 million and $1.2 million dollars annually, a figure roughly double what Johnson was making at Stanford, according to Bowlsby.
"LSU notified me this morning while we were on the way to the airport in Tampa that they wanted to talk to Trent," Bowlsby said in an afternoon email to TheBootleg.com. "The position probably pays twice what he makes at Stanford, so I guess he feels he has to listen. Coach Johnson has not informed me that he has accepted another position. Our charter landed a few minutes ago and we are headed back to campus so I could learn more yet this afternoon or evening."
Nonetheless, the source adamantly denied Bowlsby's implication that Johnson's departure was financially motivated.
"The short version is Coach is quite depressed that he won't be at Stanford. I know that's where he wants to be. I know that's where he's wanted to be all along and it's never been about the money. What he was willing to accept salary-wise would have put him in the bottom of Pac-10 coaches in terms of salary.
"Essentially, he's making less money at Stanford than he would had he stayed at Nevada, partly because it's much more expensive to live here. He wrote into his contract at Nevada that he could only leave for Stanford without some sort of buyout, and he told Nevada recruits the same.
"He would have gotten orders of magnitude less to stay at Stanford and he would have been very happy. He bought a condo on campus, and was building a home in the South Bay. His kids are on the West Coast.
"This is where he wanted to be. I can assure you it's not about money. He was willing to be at Stanford for half of whatever LSU offered him, I can assure you. I know he has told others and me that for years."
Athletic Department higher-ups had no idea Johnson was leaving as recently as this morning. They answered reporters' inquisitive phone calls this morning with honest skepticism: this was the first they were hearing of Johnson's departure. Also struck by surprise were the President and several major donors, some of the biggest behind-the-scenes players at most Universities.
"It's quite an interesting situation," the source said. "I also talked to a couple of Stanford donors who are beyond livid, so this is going to be an interesting situation to see how it all plays out."
Also in the dark were Stanford players, who too learnt of Johnson's imminent departure online. Johnson informed the team in person in a hastily-scheduled meeting Wednesday afternoon.
In addition to at first rebuffing LSU's advances, Johnson turned down a different high-paying, high-profile job in the past month, according to the source. Why, then, would he change his mind and accept the job at LSU – a school that just fired its last coach, John Brady, 18 months after he made the Final Four?
"I don't think anything changed as much it confirmed what he was worried about all along: the extension he was looking for was never coming. He was going to be boxed into a corner, just by Bowlsby slowplaying it so much. He could come back and say, ‘Okay, I give you a few years extension.' Then what?
"Pretty much every halfway decent coach has no less than four years on his contract, because that gets used against them in recruiting."
Johnson always put his team first, and so it's only fitting they'll be the last people he sees tonight, before stepping on his plane for the Bayou. While players never questioned Johnson's devotion, some did have chilly relationships with him in recent years. Johnson's source acknowledged those concerns, but said they were largely overblown.
"He's a new coach. I've seen a bunch in the AD. The first year is generally [bad], and sometimes the second year, too. But I think the best summary from anyone was from Dan Grunfeld, when someone asked him about his personal relations with his coaches. He said he was closer to Trent because, hands down, he cared most.
"I think Trent's one of most loyal people you'll ever meet. That's why Madsen wrote the blog post he did, and the players all stand up for him. The first thing he did when he came in is gave all the assistants a big raise. He went to bat for Reveno, and called everyone. That's why he's a head coach right now. Monty never did that for anyone. When SJSU didn't hire Rev, Trent dropped them from our schedule."
The source further elaborated on what were likely the three most tenuous player-coach relationships on the team, those between Johnson, the Lopez twins and Fred Washington.
"I think if you ask Fred versus a year or two ago, it'd be drastically different," the source acknowledged of Washington's feelings for his coach. "But look at his last two years, Fred's been a great player, person and leader for us.
"I think there definitely was a lot of head-butting with the twins, but there needed to be. A classic example: the guy failed his seminar because he didn't do the work. He obviously had some maturing to do.
"From my interactions with the players, and from former players, the relationship with him and players is generally very good, though as a Coach it does not need to be. Monty was a great coach, but some of his players hated his guts – so what, and Marquess too. Trent is hard on his guys, but for whatever reason has generally engendered loyalty within his players."
As the rumors fly, the fingers point and the blame accrues, let's not forget that at the end of the day, this is a story about a man. In Johnson's eyes, this is a story about a man who gave seven years to Stanford, only for Stanford to give a cold shoulder in return.
"He's sad," the source said. "He liked it here a lot. I think this was tough for him."
Reporter's final thought
Surely Bob Bowlsby would disagree with much of what's written above, and likely would point to the extension offer he verbally proffered earlier this week. He has been unreachable, however, since this afternoon, and I decided that writing one side of the story was better than writing none. I will continue to try to reach Bowlsby in the upcoming days, and will report his side of the tale as soon as any contact is made.
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