With news breaking on Easter Sunday that former Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets coachhad come to terms with the University of Alabama, fans of the Crimson Tide are hoping that the charismatic leader can help resurrect a program that has gone terribly stale over the last decade.
Athletics Director Bill Battle made it clear that he wanted to make a "splash" hire, and in that regard he could certainly do much worse than Johnson. The new Crimson Tide coach knows his way around a basketball court, to say the least. Prior to his stints as a coach with the aforementioned NBA teams, he was a long time player in the league as well. In 1999, Johnson guided the San Antonio Spurs to a NBA Title, manning the all-important role of starting point guard. On top of that, Johnson hit the championship-clinching shot in Game 5 of the Finals. The "Little General", as he was affectionately known, had his number six jersey retired by the Spurs organization in 2007.
Before entering the NBA in 1988, where he went undrafted, Coach Johnson was a standout point guard at Southern, where he twice won SWAC Player of the Year and also led the country in assists per game. In fact, his senior year was a historic one, as Johnson set the NCAA record for assists per game with an unbelievable 13.3 APG. That record still stands today. Clearly, the guy has plenty of experience in distributing the basketball and running an effective offense.
One of the major factors in Coach Battle's decision to hire Avery Johnson was that Johnson is a fantastic ambassador for the game of basketball. Since being fired by the Nets in 2012, Johnson has served as an analyst on ESPN, where he has covered all aspects of the NBA on programs such as "NBA Coast 2 Coast", "NBA Tonight" and "Sportscenter". He has a passion for the game that is evident the moment he begins speaking, and he has the ability to communicate that passion to an audience. Johnson will be the most engaging personality Alabama basketball will have had in a long time, and he will maintain a strong relationship with both the media and all the parents, coaches, mentors, etc. that he needs to in order to develop strong recruiting ties in the area. The best part is that he won't have to be a jerk in order to get face time on camera, as his infectious personality is one of his best qualities.
Truly, Johnson will be the perfect counter to Bruce Pearl down in Lee County.
What Happens Next?
While the final negotiations of the contract get cleaned up and Johnson gets ready for his introductory press conference, the 2006 NBA Coach of the Year will have to move quickly in order to get off on the right foot. National Signing Day is April 15th, and Alabama currently has a pretty mediocre class, sitting at 62nd in the country according to 247 Sports. For a guy who has never recruited before, that short of a time frame to adjust to the ins-and-outs of the recruiting world will be a tall task.
A more pressing matter will be the need for Coach Johnson to fill out the remainder of his staff. Antoine Pettway, Alabama legend and fan favorite, has to be the first person Johnson contacts. He has served as an assistant coach under Anthony Grant since 2013. Pettway knows his way around the program, has built recruiting ties in the area, and has the ability to excite both players and fans alike. Phillip Pearson, Bama alum and former assistant coach for the Tide under Mark Gottfried, has emerged as one of the better assistant coaches in the SEC under Georgia's Mark Fox. Johnson would be wise to give him a call as well. Look for the new Bama coach to draw from some of the previous staffs he has worked with as well, as Johnson has a long list of comrades with plenty of basketball knowledge.
Putting It Together
Credit Bill Battle for bouncing back strong after coming up just short in the Gregg Marshall sweepstakes; the 74 year old AD didn't settle for the safe hire. Instead, Battle went out and landed a coach who has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the game of basketball, as well as an affable, outgoing personality. Avery Johnson is the type of coach that Alabama needs right now. He has the ability to win plenty of games in Tuscaloosa, and he has the bravado to stand up to some of the other recent big time coaches who have entered the league. The "Little General" has always faced long odds, yet he has been able to succeed time and again both on and off the court. Coach Battle wanted to make some noise with this hire. Little did the Tide faithful know that noise would be spoken in a squeaky, yet smooth falsetto.