Avery Johnson is the new head basketball coach at Alabama
- Updated: April 6, 2015
The University of Alabama has been outstanding in football over the last decade. Year after year they are in the chase for the national title under the direction of head coach Nick Saban. But in basketball, the same cannot be said for the Crimson Tide. The Alabama basketball team has been missing in action for some time now. Anthony Grant was the latest head coach to come in and try to get the Crimson Tide back on track. But after six seasons and only one NCAA Tournament appearance, the Crimson Tide decided Grant’s time as their head basketball coach was over. On March 15th, Grant was fired and the search began for his replacement. It was thought they found their new head coach when they met with Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall. But instead of him taking the job seriously, he used it to get a lucrative extension to stay the head coach of Wichita State. All was not looking too good. It seemed the Crimson Tide put all their eggs in one basket in regards to Marshall and no backup plan was in place. But little did we know Alabama had already moved on to another candidate. Former NBA head coach and current ESPN analyst Avery Johnson has reportedly verbally agreed to be the new head coach at Alabama. So with that being said, the Crimson Tide made a splash with their newest hire.
Johnson is back in the coaching game, but he is also arriving at a school that is not known for supporting basketball. In the SEC, it seems like every team invests a lot in their football programs but not as much in the college basketball programs. As a result, the SEC has not been as strong, outside of Kentucky, over the past few years. At the University of Alabama, the basketball program has not had consistent success since the days of Wimp Sanderson back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Mark Godfried had some success in his run at Alabama from 1998-2009, but that was the best level of success the university has had on the hardwood since Wimp resigned in 1992. Hopefully heading into this job, Johnson made it abundantly clear that he needs the support of the school and administration in regards to his success. If they are not helping Johnson get kids to come there and backing him, then this relationship will be over before it started. It’s not unprecedented in regards to getting players there. Wimp Sanderson got future NBA players like Antonio McDyess, Robert Horry and Latrell Sprewell to come there and they were successful under Anderson. So for Johnson, he has to have success early and often to get the Alabama football fans to buy into his program. If he does not have that success, then the team will continue to fall into oblivion and Alabama will eventually get tired of Avery Johnson. And being that Johnson has never recruited on the collegiate level presents another interesting dynamic in him being the new head coach.
Getting players to come to Alabama may be a tough task, but coaching kids should be something that Avery Johnson will like. As many can recall in his last coaching job, Johnson had the Brooklyn Nets looking good in the first full month of the season. He was named NBA Coach of the Month for the month of November and things seemed to be going well. But unfortunately, the good feelings only lasted but so long. The Nets began to falter after their good start and it eventually cost him his job with the team. There was never any clear reason said as to why he was fired, but there was always talk of his players starting to phase out the message he was conveying. And in the NBA, if the players are not happy, then that can cost you your job, which it did with Johnson. In Johnson’s new job, he should enjoy the fact that coaches have more control at the collegiate level. You never hear of players being unhappy with coaches and that costing coaches their jobs. If anything, when players are unhappy, they usually end up transferring out and taking their talents somewhere else. The level of control a college coach has is way beyond the level of what an NBA coach has. Johnson also should be able to enforce what he wants to do with this team as long as he has the backing of the athletic department and the administration there at Alabama. And above all, he can do things the way he wants to do them without looking over his shoulder.
Johnson is back in the saddle as a head coach and many are glad to see him back on the sidelines. But with this task, he has some considerable challenges ahead of him due to the perception of Alabama basketball and the lack of talent there right now. If he is able to channel his inner Wimp Sanderson and get some big recruits to come there, then he should be able to turn it around. And with the control he will be given at the collegiate level, he can put his imprint on this basketball program without worrying about players getting him fired. Ultimately, the onus is on Johnson to make it happen and hopefully he will be smart enough to hire some seasoned college assistants to help him. It definitely will be interesting to see if he can take the experience of being an NBA coach and turn that into a selling point for new recruits, but he also needs coaches that are experienced recruiting around him. But all in all, this hiring has created some buzz on the Alabama hardwood. It will more than likely never match the buzz that football has at the University of Alabama, but as long as the basketball program has some consistency making the NCAA Tournament, then Johnson will have succeeded.