Johnny Jones played guard for an LSU team that reached the Final Four in 1981, and he served as an assistant coach under Dale Brown when the Tigers made it back to the Final Four in 1986.
As the new face of the LSU program, Jones will now have a chance to take the Tigers there as the head coach.
LSU announced Friday that Jones will be named the replacement for Trent Johnson, who went 67-64 in four seasons before leaving Sunday for TCU. The school will formally introduce the DeRidder native as the school’s 21st basketball coach at a Monday news conference, Associate Athletic Director Herb Vincent said.
Jones becomes the fifth LSU alumnus to coach the team, the first since A.L. Swanson finished the 1944-45 season.
“I am extremely excited about this opportunity and I can’t wait to get back there to Baton Rouge and LSU to get started,” Jones said in a university news release. “I look forward to the challenges ahead and to having an opportunity to come back and be a part of a special program at LSU. This is certainly a dream come true to return to a place that has so many memories for me.”
Jones, 51, leaves North Texas, where he went 190-146 in 11 seasons as coach, turning the Mean Green into a perennial Sun Belt Conference power and leading two of his teams to the NCAA tournament. He returns to the school where he earned the nickname “Bullet” as an LSU guard and then served 13 seasons as an assistant.
Jones was a controversial figure late in his tenure as an LSU assistant, when he was alleged to have funneled payments to star recruit Lester Earl. However, the NCAA eventually cleared Jones of any wrongdoing.
His ties to LSU’s golden era resulted in a groundswell of support from Brown and his ex-players.
LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva interviewed Jones on Tuesday and later expressed their meeting went well. But Alleva also spoke to Minnesota coach Tubby Smith about the opening, according to a CBSSports.com report published Friday morning.
Jones was also a candidate in 2008, after John Brady was fired and before Johnson was hired.
“My mother and father always told me the cream will rise to the top,” ex-LSU standout Collis Temple Jr. said. “Johnny has been a loyal LSU guy. He’s been as loyal as loyal can be. He was always supportive of Trent — of whatever coach was here. I thank God he has this opportunity. I think he’s going to be very good for the LSU community and the state of Louisiana at large.”
Temple said he spoke to Jones about 15 minutes after he accepted the job.
“Johnny Jones darn-near would have come to LSU for free,” Temple said. “That’s how much he loves this place.”
Vincent said both sides were still sorting out the details of a contract, but Jones is expected to get a significant bump in salary.
The former North Texas coach made a little more than $400,000 a year at his previous stop, according to the Denton (Texas) Record. Johnson made $1.3 million per season at LSU.
“I have followed Johnny closely since my first meeting with him four years ago when he was very impressive in my interview with him the last time the head coach job was open at LSU,” Alleva said in the university news release. “I have taken every opportunity to visit with him since that time and I have come to know him well. He is the solid coach and recruiter that we need and I am particularly impressed with his passion for LSU.”
Jones led North Texas to NCAA tournament appearances after winning the Sun Belt Conference in 2007 and 2010. The Mean Green went 18-14 with a young roster this past season, but still found its way back to the Sun Belt title game for the third year in a row.
“The former players stood up and said we wanted him,” said Rudy Macklin, the star of the 1981 team. “We didn’t have a say in the decision-making process, but we all said — from Shaquille (O’Neal) down to the guys that sat on the bench — that we would like to see Johnny in the job.”
Macklin said Jones is so excited about coming home, he was already out on the recruiting trail hours after accepting the job.
Wednesday marked the start of college basketball’s spring signing period. Prospects have until May 16 to sign.
“He’s already gone — he’s already out there,” Macklin said. “He didn’t even pack.”