Johnny Jones' candidacy for the vacant LSU head basketball coach position has picked up a trio of notable endorsements.
After Collis Temple Jr., one of the school's more prominent ex-players, opined that the North Texas coach and former LSU point guard and assistant coach should get the LSU job on Friday, outgoing coach Trent Johnson echoed those sentiments to a Baton Rouge magazine on Saturday. And Dale Brown, the winningest and most prominent former LSU coach, also gave Jones a ringing endorsement Monday.
"I read (athletic director) Joe Alleva's comments in the paper today describing what the next coach needed to be - integrity, discipline - and what he was describing was Coach Johnny Jones," Brown said.
Most importantly to Brown, who has lived in Baton Rouge for 40 years and has remained a fixture at LSU games even after his 25-year stint as LSU's head coach ended after the 1997 season, Jones has the local ties, familiarity and charisma to reach Louisiana fans who don't necessarily think of basketball first.
"What you have to understand is LSU is a football place and it's tough to get basketball support," Brown said. "Johnny Jones is so well known here, I think he is the man who can get the support."
Brown, of course, is a bit biased. Jones, a native of DeRidder, La., was on Brown's 1981 Final Four LSU team and was an assistant coach on Brown's 1986 Final Four team. He helped recruit Shaquille O'Neal to LSU. In short, any blueprint he may draw for bringing LSU back to its glory days will come from a personal frame of reference.
Johnson was not at LSU long enough for his blueprint to have ultimately succeeded or failed. He left with LSU creeping back from back-to-back last place SEC finishes to go 18-15 in 2012, making the NIT. He had four starters coming back even after the departure of junior center Justin Hamilton.
Brown wished Johnson, who went 67-64 in four seasons at LSU before leaving for TCU (the official announcement is scheduled for Monday), well at his new job.
"I'm real happy for Trent," Brown said. "He's a fine coach and a nice man with superb ethics. I'm glad it ended well for him."
But he also suggested that the former Stanford coach might not have been the best fit for LSU and "fit" might be a point of emphasis for Alleva in the new search.
"Look at Billy Gillispie. He was highly successful before he came to Kentucky," Brown said. "But look what happened. Some people may not be cut out for your situation."
And, he said, LSU is a place not every coach is cut out for. He said Jones is cut out for it and if Alleva wanted evidence, he should call high school coaches in the state.
"He should call prominent high school coaches," he said. "They'll tell him who it should be."
With the endorsement of its most prominent ex-coach, its outgoing coach and Temple, the school's first African-American player and one of its more visible ex players around the arena (two of his sons, Collis Temple III and Garrett Temple, played for the Tigers in the 2000s), it would seem that Jones may have shot to the top of the list of candidates.
Not so fast.
Jones is not a nationally sexy candidate. His name does not appear next to every major opening, like Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens.
His career record of 205-162, two NCAA tournament appearances (no wins) and one Sun Belt Conference regular-season title in 11 years at North Texas and part of one season as interim head coach at Memphis is only modestly strong on the surface. And Alleva's history tells us he doesn't aim for less-than-marquee names with ties to the program.
Women's basketball coach Nikki Caldwell was a slam-dunk A-list hire with little tie to LSU. Alleva went after and, for three days, landed A-list softball coach Patrick Murphy (after he backed out to return to Alabama, LSU hired current coach Beth Torina from Florida International).
So there is plenty of reason to think Jones might not be the first candidate Alleva thinks about.
But a deeper look at Jones' resume is more impressive than at first glance. UNT has been in the last three SBC tournament championship games and before this season the Mean Green had five straight 20-win seasons. In the four seasons prior to his arrival in Denton, UNT had 20 combined wins.
It hasn't been enough to make Jones, who was interviewed in 2010 for the Auburn job, an A-list candidate nationally. But with a lot of prominent members of the LSU basketball community, it's plenty.