By Jess Nicholas
April 5, 2015
When Alabama fans awake Easter morning, the ones that go hunting for Easter eggs might find an egg packed with an unusual prize – an NBA Finals resume.
Alabama interviewed former Dallas Mavericks and Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson over the weekend, an interview that seems to have come out of the blue. Reports from Tuscaloosa indicate Johnson contacted Alabama first, which begs the question: Who thought Alabama might have the chance to hire a successful former NBA coach – at his behest?
Johnson’s pro resume has several positive marks, including the fact that he was the fastest to reach 50 wins of any coach in league history. But it was his NBA Finals appearance, where his Mavericks lost to the Miami Heat, that make his candidacy most interesting from Alabama’s point of view.
The Alabama basketball program has backslid from the heights it reached during Wimp Sanderson’s tenure, but the Crimson Tide has had good company: namely, the entire SEC in recent years, with the notable exception of Kentucky. The SEC is considered a “Power 5” conference, but that is almost entirely football’s doing, as the schools that don’t base out of Lexington, Ky., have been little more than speed bumps for other programs on their way to bigger things.
Hiring Avery Johnson wouldn’t guarantee Alabama success, but the name recognition it would give Alabama on the recruiting trail would be substantial. Even if Johnson only stayed in Tuscaloosa for a few years, his tenure would very likely get the program back on its feet and give it a boost besides. If Alabama has to go looking for another coach in four or five years – assuming Johnson still has his eye on the NBA – it would be able to do so in a better (read: more talented) position than it currently sits, and would be able to make its next hire with a permanent president and athletic director in place.
With Gregg Marshall off the table, and an established, big-name college coach like Tom Crean a flagging possibility, Avery Johnson could be the ideal solution. Johnson is from Louisiana and knows the area, even given the fact – and it’s a substantial one – that he has never recruited for a college roster. He is dynamic, charismatic and recognizable, which not only gives him credibility on the recruiting trail, but also makes the process of re-energizing the program a much easier one to enact. Marketing – the area in which Anthony Grant might have failed the most – is a natural strength for Johnson.
If Alabama decides not to go with Johnson, the picture behind him appears to be getting clearer, to the extent that Murray State head coach and former Alabama assistant Steve Prohm seems to be solidly next in line. While Prohm’s ties to the campus give him familiarity with the program, and while he has had obvious success in the college game, hiring Prohm would obviously lack the “wow” factor that Johnson would provide. Still, that’s not to say Prohm would do poorly in Tuscaloosa, and of the small-school candidates vying for the Alabama job, he’s probably the one that seems most assured of success at his next stop.
Alabama’s timeline for formally naming a coach is still unknown, but it would be somewhat of a surprise if Alabama didn’t have a coach in place by Wednesday of the coming week. With the Final Four going on, Alabama could seize a good bit of free publicity by naming a coach Monday, especially if that name belongs to Avery Johnson.
Johnson would be a bit of a risk, giving his lack of a college coaching resume, but it’s a risk a program in Alabama’s position not only can afford to take, but one that Alabama probably should take. Steve Prohm is a solid candidate and it appears Alabama will get a good coach either way, but the potential upside to hiring Avery Johnson is almost immeasurable – especially for a Bama program trying to lift itself by its bootstraps.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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