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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

April 9, 2012 at 10:39 AM

Suddenly, Trent Johnson is a Horned Frog

The often-perplexing merry-go-round of coaching hires has dropped Trent Johnson off in Fort Worth, Texas, where he’ll head up Texas Christian basketball in the first year of its launch into the Big 12 next season.

Johnson is a graduate of Franklin High in Seattle, Boise State, and a former assistant at Washington and Rice prior to head coaching jobs at Nevada, Stanford and of late, Louisiana State.

Funny stuff happens. Johnson had an ascendant run at Nevada. Remember, it was his 2004 team that gave Gonzaga probably its most stunning defeat in the golden era of Zags basketball — a 92-74 loss at KeyArena in the second round of the NCAA toiurnament.

He went on to Stanford, did well, recruited the Lopez twins, and seemed to have it going there. Until Bob Bowlsby, the athletic director, arrived. For whatever reason, Bowlsby wasn’t a big fan of Johnson, allowed his contract to lapse during the 2007-08 season, and Johnson leaped to take the LSU job after that year.

Inheriting a good roster that included Tasmin Mitchell and Marcus Thornton, Johnson had a big initial year in Baton Rouge, going 27-8, winning the SEC regular-season title — cinching it with a win over Kentucky — and eventually losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament to North Carolina.

But then it began turning sour. Johnson’s teams went only 5-27 in SEC play the next two seasons. Among the bad news was a knee injury to Aaron Dotson, the Seattle product who started as a freshman, but eventually transferred out to Utah. Johnson went 18-15 this year and played in the NIT, but had a 7-9 league record, making it 12-36 over the past three seasons in the SEC after that boffo opening in 2009.

I have no idea what the dynamic there was, but you can surmise there was going to be big pressure to win next year, so the TCU hire, announced Monday, may have represented a good landing spot for Johnson. The Horned Frogs spot opened up because Jim Christian left — for Ohio University, which upgraded its basketball-coaching salary to $600,000, equalling what he was making at TCU. Christian is a former Kent State coach who had his own rugged times at TCU before making a CBI appearance this year.

“Sometimes coaching changes work out well for all parties involved,” said LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, in what isn’t exactly a deafening statement of regret that Johnson is moving on.

Meanwhile, in the post-Johnson era at Stanford, the Cardinal hasn’t set the world on fire under Johnny Dawkins. Stanford won the National Invitation Tournament recently, but hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since Johnson departed.

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