With Avery Johnson officially out after four seasons as Alabama’s basketball coach, a few scattered thoughts:
Defections are coming, but that would have happened either way: Dazon Ingram has been dropping hints about his unhappiness for the last two seasons, and even went through senior day ceremonies as a pending graduate despite having one more year to play. Therefore his Saturday social media post describing his Crimson Tide career in the past tense was hardly a shock. Daniel Giddens is also eligible to leave as a graduate transfer with immediate eligibility. Tevin Mack, Alex Reese and Galin Smith all endured extended benchings this year, whether for insufficient effort or lack of production, and there were rumblings one or more could be leaving Tuscaloosa even if Johnson returned. Then again, one or more other regulars could decide they want no part of Bama without their original coach. Any way you slice it, what already was shaping up as an awkward, unbalanced roster for 2019-20 could have some gaping holes once the dust settles.
Recruiting regionally is not enough: It can be heartwarming to see so many in-state players on the roster, but basketball is a national and international game. Seven of Alabama’s scholarship players this year were from the Yellowhammer State, along with redshirting freshman Diante Wood. That’s too big a representation from a medium-sized state with an underdeveloped basketball culture that usually produces one or two top quality recruits per year at most. Californian Jaden Shackelford signed a letter of intent last November, but as of now he would be the only Tide player from outside the Deep South. Whoever takes over the program has to be able to draw in players from all over.
This may need to be a budget-minded hire: Johnson and athletic director Greg Byrne spent the weekend negotiating the terms of the contract buyout, and while terms were not disclosed, it is fair to assume that Johnson didn’t budge far from the $6-$8 million he would have been owed if the university released him outright. Between that, the reduced revenues from disappointing ticket sales this year and the roughly $3 million Bama has paid Johnson in salary per year, a splashy hire may not be in the cards. If Byrne has to settle for a mid-major success story like John Brannen at Northern Kentucky or Steve Forbes at ETSU, he’ll need to help sell it as a long-term commitment to rebuilding the right way and not a sign the department “doesn’t care” about hoops.
The future of Coleman Coliseum complicates the next coach’s tenure: Alabama’s aging basketball facility is scheduled to undergo a substantial renovation immediately following the conclusion of the 2021-22 season. Even in the best-case scenario, Bama’s next coach would be spending the first semester of his critical fourth season playing home games scattered across the state and perhaps even at tiny Foster Auditorium. If there are any delays, Bama could spend an entire season out of pocket, presumably based out of Birmingham’s Legacy Arena. That can be a drain on a program, and Byrne need not look any further than next door at Sewell-Thomas Stadium, where the baseball program is just now beginning to recover after a disastrous 2015 season played at the Hoover Met. Any coach with even moderate leverage is going to want firm guarantees that the school won’t get impatient if things go sideways just when a normal rebuild would start to blossom.