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BREAKING REPORT: Avery Johnson negotiating buyout with Alabama, leaving behind a mixed legacy

End of the Johnson era?

Alabama v Villanova Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

On Thursday, around 3:00, we started getting cryptic texts from #sauces near the program involving Avery Johnson and his staff — four, in the course of about two hours. So, something was definitely up, but we did not have enough concrete information to run with it.

Turns out, when there is that much smoke, there is definitely a fire.

Per an report from Michael Casagrande, the University and Avery Johnson are in discussions to negotiate a buyout of his remaining $8 million contract. That sum drops to $6 million in about 3 weeks.

The Avery Johnson era appears to be nearing an end at the University of Alabama.

The school and Johnson are currently negotiating a buyout for what would be a mutually agreed upon parting of ways, learned Thursday night. The discussions remain active a day after the Crimson Tide season ended in the NIT.

Until Saturday’s spectacular first round NIT flameout against KenPom No. 265 Norfolk State, we were almost certain that Johnson would return. Alabama is in general a very conservative program, often waiting an extra year or two to make the obvious decision. However, as we saw with Greg Goff, and now with Johnson, Byrne has been significantly more aggressive in making personnel moves — at least more aggressive than Mal Moore or Bill Battle proved to be.

And, in this case, it is the right call.

When you look at the program for 2019-2020, it is hard to believe that the team will be significantly improved. Flawed though it is, Alabama’s post game takes a significant hit with the departure of Donta’ Hall. Three senior role players leave, with the graduation of Lawson Shaffer, Avery Johnson Jr., and Riley Norris. There are rumors of transfers coming, most notably Tevin Mack. Balanced against that, we are left with bare assurances from Coach Johnson that a solid recruiting class, a chance at Trendon Watford, and undetermined changes could help the program turn the corner. That wasn’t enough.

But, the real killer has to have been the announced attendance for Wednesday’s contest; allegedly 2000 souls — but only 1400 tickets were actually scanned. Attendance is what kills you in this game, not just the play on the court. There are also the cold hard economics of fielding a winning team — with the Football Good Times nearing their end, it is incumbent upon Alabama’s second-leading revenue sport to actually generate revenue: And NCAA tournament victories are worth about $1 million/per to a school.

Alabama v Villanova Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

With several large programs in the market for a coach, and several others almost-certainly to be doing so, this is an excellent chance to get ahead of the market. This is as critical a hire for the school since Nick Saban was retained in late 2006.

Basketball is truly at a crossroads, and for the past 15 years the program has been marked by disappointments and outright mediocrity. With capital improvements underway, an increasingly brutal SEC, and a roster that will almost certainly have to be rebuilt over the next few seasons, Alabama must be patient with its next hire. But to get there, then it must make the right decision out of the gate.

For Coach Johnson, this isn’t anything to celebrate. With absolute rare exceptions, there is no joy to be found in someone losing their job. And, in Johnson’s case, it is particularly a bitter pill. To a person, this fan base wanted him him to succeed. There was buzz around the program, attendance was up, there was palpable excitement for the first time in about a decade.

Avery Johnson leaves a mixed legacy. There were problems with uneven efforts by his team, and that was especially true this season. At the same time, Coleman Coliseum became a feared venue for visitors, with Alabama picking up four Top-10 wins at home in just the last two seasons. Alabama beat the Kentucky juggernaut that has tormented them for 70 years. The Tide made its first NCAA appearance in six seasons, and more importantly, picked up its first win in over a decade. The one area fans were most concerned about, recruiting, turned out to not be that much of a deficit: recruiting actually turned out to be his greatest strength. Johnson ran a clean program that graduated players, and he was genuinely liked by people around the university.

But, in the end, the college game just seems a bad fit for Coach Johnson. In addition to the lack of effort that plagued many of his teams, his teams were fairly awful on the road. The baffling rotations and inability to foster team chemistry showed throughout his tenure. And, in the end, he just didn’t win enough games. Plain and simple.

Though Johnson led Alabama to four straight postseasons, his bottom line was not markedly better than his predecessor. Johnson has compiled a 75–62 (.547) record, going 34–38 (.472) in SEC play — and the Tide won no more than 10 SEC games any season, nor finished higher than T-5th in the league. And, while Johnson was outstanding in the SEC Tournament (8-0 vs. Non-Kentucky; 0-4 vs. Kentucky), his postseason record was dreadful. Johnson’s ‘Bama teams went 1-4 in the postseason, including an awful 0-3 in the NIT with two home losses.

Good man, bad fit. And there’s no shame in admitting that and moving on.

Where Alabama goes now is up for speculation and debate. And, there will be excitement about the hiring process and candidates. But the program failing to meet the lofty goals Johnson set for it and himself is nothing to celebrate. He should be thanked for making Alabama fans demand more even if in the end, it was partially those same expectations that saw him exit Tuscaloosa.

We thank him and we sincerely wish Coach Johnson and his family all the best going forward.

As for Tide fans, you can unbuckle now.