LSU introduces Jones as new coach
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP)
Johnny Jones described going to sleep ''many a night'' with LSU's head coaching job in his thoughts.
Now the job he coveted for so long is officially his.
''It's a dream come true,'' Jones, a former player and former assistant coach at LSU, said when he was introduced as the Tigers' 21st coach on Monday. ''I am home, and there is no place like home. I am going to try and bring back the passion and excitement LSU basketball had in its glory days.''
Jones agreed in principle to take the job last Friday night, replacing Trent Johnson, who accepted the vacant head basketball position at TCU.
Jones had been the head coach at North Texas for the past 11 seasons, going 190-146 with two Sun Belt tournament titles.
Before he got into coaching, Jones played under former LSU coach Dale Brown from 1981 to '84 and was a freshman on the Tigers' 1981 Final Four team. Jones then served on Brown's staff in a variety of capacities from 1985 to 1997. In 1986, LSU advanced to the Final Four again.
Brown was in the audience when Jones was introduced on Monday.
''We all got much more than a basketball coach,'' Brown said of Jones. ''We got a person with integrity, humor, superb work ethic, strong-willed, a unifier, a disciplinarian — a bright and pleasant gentleman. Hold on to your seats. This will be an exciting ride.''
Jones was interviewed by LSU Athletics Director Joe Alleva four years ago when Johnson was hired as a replacement for John Brady.
''When I interviewed coach Jones four years ago, I said `Wow, this guy's impressive,''' Alleva said. ''I've followed him the last four years. I watched his press conferences. I watched his games. He was on my list. There is no doubt in my mind that he is the right man for this job at this time.''
Following two last-place Southeastern Conference finishes, LSU received a NIT bid this past season. The Tigers ended the season with an 18-15 record, including a 20-point loss at Oregon in the first round of the NIT.
Despite some improvement this past season, passion from the fan base seemed to be in short supply. When LSU played Kentucky in the SEC tournament in New Orleans a little over a month ago, the crowd overwhelmingly favored the Wildcats.
Jones witnessed the lack of atmosphere two seasons ago when his North Texas team defeated LSU 75-55 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
''That game was the first time I had been back here for a game,'' Jones said. ''Looking around, ... it bothered me. Those are the things I want to change. We are going to play a style of ball that the fans will enjoy.
''We're going to play a fast brand of basketball. We're going to push it, but it's going to be organized. It's not going to be chaos. We're going to be under control,'' Jones continued. ''Then, we're going to defend the rim. We'll force the other team to take low percentage shots. We'll get after it and the fans will embrace it.''
LSU returns four starters from this past season's team: point guard Anthony Hickey, wings Ralston Turner and Andre Stringer and post player Johnny O'Bryant. Post player Justin Hamilton, the fifth starter, recently announced that he was giving up his senior season to enter the NBA draft.
There are only three other returning scholarship players and Johnson signed just one player for next season. So Jones took the job with five open scholarships.
''I'm hopeful that all the guys are going to stay,'' Jones said. ''We had a great and productive meeting (Sunday). I hope they are returning, but I want to make sure they are all in and we are all on the same page. There will not be a transition period. I am not waiting until I have my guys. (The current players) are my guys.''
Jones will be the third LSU basketball coach since the team played in the Final Four six seasons ago. Two years later, Brady was fired. Now Johnson has left for the same position at TCU. The Tigers have had one winning SEC record since that last Final Four campaign.
''The fans have to know how important it is for them to be here,'' Jones said. ''I am here to get them back in the Assembly Center. I understand I can't do it alone.''