Johnson hired to lead TCU basketball in Big 12
FORT WORTH, Texas — As Texas Christian University athletic director Chris Del Conte introduced new men's basketball coach Trent Johnson, he made clear what the expectations are for a program that has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.
"It's been a long time since we've been to the tournament," Del Conte said at Monday's news conference. "And you know what the tournament tastes like so we're hoping that in short order you'll take us there."
Before TCU can get a taste of an NCAA Tournament, the Horned Frogs will first have to sink their teeth into the Big 12 for the first time.
TCU leaves the Mountain West this summer and begins play in the highly competitive Big 12 next season.
However, joining the Big 12 is one of the reasons Johnson said he chose to leave LSU, where he was 67-64 over the past four seasons, and take the TCU job.
"It's really important," Johnson said of competing in the Big 12. "It was really attractive. The bottom line is kids want to play at the elite level, they want to play against elite competition."
Johnson was the head coach at Stanford and Nevada prior to LSU, which he led to an NIT berth last season.
Johnson has taken teams to eight postseason berths, including five NCAA Tournament bids. His 2003-04 Nevada team and his 2007-08 Stanford squad reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAAs.
Johnson built Nevada into a nationally respected program with standout players such as Kirk Snyder and Nick Fazekas. He likened TCU's situation to that of Nevada.
In coaching Stanford, Johnson has experience at a private university such as TCU. He said one of the things that attracted him to the job was the smaller, close-knit campus.
He said he's met with Gary Patterson, the coach of the highly successful TCU football program, about the advantages of the school.
"I can't express to you how excited I am about the challenge that's in front of us," Johnson said. "The challenge is one that we're all going to have to do together."
Some of the disadvantages include facilities — TCU plays in 51-year-old Daniel-Meyer Coliseum — and a track record of not being able to attract the top recruits produced by the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Johnson pointed to the football program's success and its state-of-the-art facilities and believes he can recruit in an area where "great players are an arm's length away."
"Winning takes care of it all," Johnson said. "Our football program under Coach Patterson says it all."
Johnson has been named Coach of the Year in the WAC, Pac-10 and SEC. He has a 226-185 career record and won regular-season league titles at both Nevada and LSU.
"The bottom line is winning your conference championship. That's the goal," Johnson said. "When you look at the Big 12, where you have five coaches who have been to the Final Four, for us, every step of the way, we have to keep that goal in mind."
Johnson repeatedly referred to getting the program to an elite level. Making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than 14 years would be a good start.
"I can assure you this: We are going to work our tails off to get this thing to an elite level in a hurry," Johnson said.
Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire