Two weeks worth of rumblings and it looks like Assistant Coach Kenny Johnson is leaving to take a similar job at Louisville. Conventional wisdom in reaction to this news is that it is bad.
After all, Johnson was our primary recruiter and had the most direct ties into DelMarVa, where he’s landed some of our most heralded recruits; Vonleh, Williams, Robinson, Johnson.
There is also the very reasonable position to take that it’s one thing for an Assistant Coach to leave to become a head coach, but to leave to take the same position at another school, much less one that is less than two hours away, says bad things about the program, the head coach, the state, America, and God’s place in the heavens.
The temptation is also there to list things and draw a conclusion. Calbert Chaeney left for St. Louis, Luke Fischer transferred to Marquette, Austin Etherington transferred to Butler, Jeremy Hollowell transferred to parts unknown, Jonny Marlin did something, the Fat Boys broke up, and NOW THIS!
Which means that the sky is falling, or at the very least, raining men.
That’s fine. I get that. If you are already on the edge about the program, any news other than Lebron is reinstating his amateur status and, because of his close relationship with Dwyane Wade, has decided to come play for Tom Crean for the next four years is going to feed your belief that everything is wrong with everything.
I have two other, inter-related, thoughts on the matter that don’t necessarily align with that narrative.
1. I think we can stipulate that the above stated position, that all of these departures are a symptom of some deep seeded rot in the program, depends greatly on what happens next. If this next year is a disaster and things keep falling off like we’ve got herpasymplex 10, then your read of the situation is probably pretty accurate. And since your position rests entirely on predicting the future, what I’m about to posit can as well.
What if all of these departures aren’t the symptoms, but rather the cure. What if whatever caused this team to underperform even my modest expectations for them will be made infinitely better by losing four players and an assistant coach? After all, losing a bunch of players and coach last summer resulted in a huge drop off. Why can’t it work the other way?
If what has been hinted at frequently is in fact the case, that the problems with this team were in the locker room, that the team suffered from a lack of leadership, and that this particular group of kids was a bad mix, then changing out 1/2 of that mix is the only way to fix it. Next year’s team will be a completely different group of kids and thus have a completely different personality. How is that a bad thing? This team was bad. Leaving it untouched wouldn’t have fixed it.
2. Was Kenny Johnson really that great? I’m not sure. The answer to this rests entirely on what quantifies success as an Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator, which is the title he holds on the IU Basketball website.
If it’s bringing in a highly ranked recruiting class, then he did that last year. 2014-2015, not so much. Blackmon, Johnson, Hoetzel, and April could be a great class, but a. it’s not ranked as such currently, and if the ranking is what matters then he’s batting .500, b. we’ve missed on a lot of recruits, and c. the class still needs two more kids and he doesn’t get credit or blame for them since he’s already left. So, does going 1 for 2 with highly ranked classes qualify as great?
If it’s recruiting a a cohesive class that performs well together on the court and gels with the current roster of players, then I think that answers itself.
Look, I’m not coming anywhere close to saying that the performance of last year’s team is Kenny Johnson’s fault. I’ve been pretty clear from jump street that the results on the floor are on the players more than anyone else. He recruited all the ones that got serious PT, so maybe he gets to wear the hat of responsibility a little bit, but his job is to bring them in. It is the other coaches’ jobs to develop them. And it’s the players jobs to do what they’re asked to do.
But, I am saying that before we canonize Kenny Johnson for being the greatest recruiter since Sliced Bread, which is the nickname for the guy who put together all of UCLA’s best teams, a fact you surely didn’t know, because I just made it up, we should take a good look at what his recruits have done for the program thus far and admit that maybe it wasn’t that much.
I’ve heard a lot of people express an interest in hiring a replacement who has great ties in Indiana and in the Midwest, after all, couldn’t we have won two championships with a team just filled Indiana guys these past two years. I’d be ok with that. But I’d also be OK if we got another East Coast connected guy. That doesn’t really matter to me as long as he can do that part of his job well.
What I’d rather see is a rearrangement of coaching duties (this is based on what I think has been the case for Johnson these last two years, correct me if I’m wrong). Can we hire a coach who can recruit well AND develop our current players? We’ve recruited two great big men in Zeller and Vonleh and sent them both to the pros, but I’m not sure either one got markedly better while here. I’ve also watched point guard after point guard, from VJIII to Jordan to Yogi not be able to deliver the ball to the post in the right position or at the right time on a consistent basis. Maybe we get a coach who can work with our players on that? Just a thought.
One final thought. Do you know which Assistant Coach landed Calbert Chaeney or missed on Eric Montross? I don’t. Could it be that we would have been all worked up about that assistant coach too, if we’d had message boards in 1990?
Relax. It’s April. Go sleep through a baseball game. We’ll know more when the team takes the floor in the fall. Until then, just breath. It’s possible that all of this is good news, and we just won’t know it until the season starts.