Thursday, April 12, 2012
Emotions emerge during coaching search
By Gary Laney
Clarence Ceasar couldn't believe what he was hearing Wednesday.
"They've already had outsiders - John Brady and Trent Johnson," he said. "They don't need to be bring Jamie Dixon in here."
Frustration was in the voice of Ceasar, an LSU basketball star from the early 1990s who was a teammate of Shaquille O'Neal. He had just read reports that surfaced Wednesday that Dixon, the Pittsburgh head coach, was being interviewed for the LSU head basketball coach opening (reports that were later refuted).
Ceasar, once a streak-shooting, defensive-minded 6-foot-7 forward and now a high school coach at Washington-Marion High in Lake Charles, La, thought it was nonsense.
"They need to bring Johnny Jones over there if they care about LSU basketball," he said. "They should have done it four years ago."
Ceasar was reacting to the news of a strange day in what has been a strange search. Before it was over, he'd have reason to be less frustrated.
Harvard's Tommy Amaker (center) plans on staying put and will not interview at LSU.
First came news from several outlets that Jones, the former LSU player and assistant coach, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker and former New Mexico State and Sacramento Kings coach Reggie Theus had all been interviewed or would be interviewed for the job. Later, the bombshell that Dixon was being interviewed was also revealed in a report.
And with that, emotions ran high.
For some, the news on Dixon represented a validation that LSU was after big names. For others, like Ceasar, it meant another opportunity for LSU to rekindle a tie to the Dale Brown era might be missed.
But then all the news unraveled.
First, Amaker told ESPN's Andy Katz he was not leaving Harvard. Later, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva told the Baton Rouge Advocate that while he had spoken with Amaker, there was no interest on Amaker's part.
Then, came the bigger twist: It appeared the reported meeting with Dixon hadn't happened. Alleva denied it and sources in Pittsburgh said Dixon had spent much of the day communicating with his athletic director at Pitt, Steve Pederson with as many as five separate phone conversations. He later attended a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game and had a telephone interview during ESPNU's national signing day coverage.
It didn't seem he had the time to be involved in a possible job change.
So we were left with some relieved, but still nervous Jones supporters, some upset fans who still want to see a big name like Dixon enter the picture, and a disconnect that seems to exist from many with old program connections and fans.
Jones, who interviewed for the job Tuesday, is trying to become the first LSU coach in the post-Brown era who has ties to the Brown era. A native of DeRidder, La., he played on Brown's 1981 team and was an assistant coach under Brown for 12 years.
He is 190-146 in 11 years at North Texas and has led the Eagles to two NCAA tournament appearances. UNT has a current streak of three straight trips to the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship game and it had a five-season streak of 20-win seasons snapped this season.
Ceasar, who said he is one of several former LSU players who have contacted LSU athletic Joe Alleva on behalf of Jones, joined a growing list of endorsers of the North Texas coach.
Every former LSU head coach from the post-Pete Maravich era - Dale Brown, John Brady and the recently-departed Johnson - have all said he's the man for the job. Notable players from the past like Rudy Macklin and Collis Temple, Jr. have come out in support of Jones.
And now, Ceasar said he's one of several players from the Brown era who have gone to Alleva to plead for Jones. He claimed the feeling is strong.
"If they don't hire Johnny, they might not have an alumni game because nobody's going to want to go back there," he said.
And if it isn't strange enough to have apparent phantom candidates in the search, the search has been unusual for how polarizing its lead candidate seems to be.
Jones, who was interviewed for the job when Johnson was hired in 2008, was the early favorite. But many LSU fans, aware of the school's resources and ability to attract big names, felt that settling for a coach who's never won an NCAA tournament game and has never coached above the Sun Belt Conference level, would be resigning the program to a mediocre future.
"These fans haven't been in that locker room and they don't understand what Johnny Jones means," Ceasar said. "I could have gone to a lot of places, but I came to LSU because of Johnny Jones. When he came to recruit me, he made me feel like the prettiest girl at the prom.
"He recruited all of us. He recruited Shaq. He recruited Vernel (Singleton). He brought us all in.We came to LSU because of Johnny Jones."
It didn't end well at LSU for Jones, who first came to Baton Rouge as a jet-quick point guard from DeRidder High in the 1970s. Brown retired in 1997 under an NCAA investigation of, among other things, LSU's recruitment of Lester Earl. Jones was later cleared of any wrongdoing in the case.
Since Brown's retirement, LSU has gone 15 seasons detached from the Brown era under Brady, a Mississippi State graduate who had been a head coach at Samford, and Johnson, Stanford's head coach and a former Boise State player.
Some from the Brown era want one of their own back in. Others want a big name, perhaps the kind of celebrity coach that's been missing from the LSU bench since Brown.
To that notion, Ceasar offered a bridge he hopes will fill the gap between where he is on the search and where a lot of fans are.
"They want a big name, Johnny will be a big name," he said. "Every big name wasn't a big name before they became one. Bring Johnny in here and he'll bring back the magic and then they'll have their big name."