Ben Johnson played his college ball for Dick Bennett, was an assistant coach for Dick Bennett and later for Tony Bennett, and spent a total of nine years on the sidelines at Washington State before moving to Australia last summer.
Think about it for a minute. The guy made no secret of the fact he loved Pullman. He proved in convincing fashion that he could recruit to Pullman. The fact Thompson and Baynes are both in the NBA right now speaks volumes about his skills in the talent wars because WSU has had only five guys in the history of the program play more than three seasons in the NBA.
For those who think the Cougs need the so-called "system coach" to make the program work, what system has been more proven to work out on the Palouse than Dick Bennett's? It worked at WSU, it's working at Virginia right now, and Johnson is an expert practitioner.
For those like Bill Moos, who believe recruiting ability ought to be foremost on the list of attributes, Johnson's work right there at WSU is proof of his skills. Thompson, Baynes, Motum, Casto and Rochestie were all his gets. That list contains two of the greatest scorers in program history; one of the top assist men in program history; the best big we've had on the Palouse in about two generations; and a high-energy rebounder and shot-blocker in Casto. All five are playing professionally right now.
Thompson is the finest example of Johnson's recruiting skills because he was going up against tradition-laden Michigan and Notre Dame to land him.
He was able to help make Klay happen for WSU because he's sincere, a good listener, and an absolute believer in both his product – Bennett Ball – and the virtues of Pullman.
Baynes also offers insight on why Johnson would make a good candidate. Johnson is noted tutor of big men, and under his watch Baynes went from being, as Dick Bennett once said, "a big bear with a sore ass," to a guy going toe to toe with Jon Brockman and the better bigs in the conference.
Johnson wouldn't be the glamor choice for a new head coach. But after the hype and hollerin' has died down, it's about winning games and winning seasons and Johnson has the experience, brains, personality, recruiting connections and system to be one fine option in that regard.
Except for perhaps Dick and Tony Bennett, is there anyone on the planet who knows better what it takes to succeed at WSU than Ben Johnson? For 20 years he learned the game from Bennett or Bennett acolytes. His four years with Ken Bone were all about being a good soldier and doing what he could to keep water from coming over the sides of Ken's ill-fated new direction for the program. Make no mistake about this:
Johnson is a Bennett guy, period.
It's no coincidence that Bone and Johnson parted ways before this last season. When it comes to philosophy, they are from different camps. That's not to say they didn't get along well or that one camp may not be better than another in certain situations.
Johnson is now coaching in Australia. He played there professionally and his wife is from there – with young ones at home, having family on the same continent is no doubt a powerful draw. So maybe that's where they want and need to be right now.
But knowing how much he liked Pullman, and how much sweat equity he put into the program, the guess here is that he'd be one long-distance call away from grabbing a Qantas flight this direction.
Discount the idea if you want, but sometimes the most obvious answer to a question is sitting right in front of you. This feels like one of those moments.
TONY BENNETT AND BEN JOHNSON, CIRCA 2007.