Johnny Jones now has the coaching job he has coveted for years, and LSU hopes his passion for his alma mater re-invigorates the Tigers' fan base and keeps Louisiana's top high school basketball players from leaving the state.
Jones, who coached North Texas for the past 11 seasons, has agreed to take over the Tigers, returning to where he played his college ball and was an assistant coach.
"I am pleased to welcome Johnny Jones back to Baton Rouge where he helped build a winner and where I am confident he will once again build a winner and bring excitement back," LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said Friday night. "He is the solid coach and recruiter that we need and I am particularly impressed with his passion for LSU. It is his passion that I know will translate into success on and off the court for our student-athletes."
The 51-year-old Jones played in the 1981 Final Four for then-LSU coach Dale Brown. In 1986, he was one of Brown's assistants with another Final Four squad.
"This is certainly a dream come true to return to a place that has so many memories for me," Jones said. "I want to reconnect with the fans in Baton Rouge that pushed us and gave our basketball team so much energy through the years when I was there as a part of the program."
Jones went 190-146 with North Texas, winning the Sun Belt Conference tournament title twice. In the past six seasons, Jones' squads have averaged about 21 victories.
Jones will replace Trent Johnson, who left LSU last weekend after four seasons to become TCU's head coach.
Jones' hiring is subject to the approval of the LSU Board of Supervisors. Stanley Jacobs, a former LSU player and the LSU board's current athletics committee chairman, didn't seem to think that would be a problem when he spoke to The Associated Press by phone from LSU's baseball stadium on Friday night.
"To use a baseball analogy, Joe Alleva hit a home run by hiring Johnny," Jacobs said. "He has incredible contacts in the state. He has the support of the LSU basketball alumni, as well as former coaches, and I like the hire. I think he's a difference maker.
"If we had brought in someone who didn't understand Louisiana it would have taken time to get familiar with the state, but he's going to hit the ground running," Jacobs continued. "The reason why I'm so enthused about him is I think he'll do just like (LSU football coach) Les Miles - he'll get top players in the state. We're not Duke. We're not Kentucky. We're not Kansas. But if we get top players in this state we can compete with them."
Jones was a high school star in the small Louisiana town of DeRidder before coming to LSU as a player. As an LSU assistant, he helped recruit former stars Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Jackson and Randy Livingston.
Jones left LSU for Memphis after Brown retired in 1997. His stint at Memphis included a short stint as interim coach. He then spent a season as an Alabama assistant before taking over at North Texas.
Jones was a candidate for the LSU job after John Brady was fired four years ago, but Alleva instead went with Johnson, who was coming off an NCAA tournament appearance at Stanford. Johnson won the Southeastern Conference regular season in his first year, but struggled for much of the past three seasons as fan support for the program dwindled.
Jacobs said that if Jones could turn North Texas into a regular contender in the Sun Belt, he should be able to do even better at LSU, where he will have more resources and the opportunity to recruit more talent."
"At North Texas, you don't get the players like you do at LSU," Jacobs said. "We're the flagship school (in Louisiana). Being a coach is important, but players are important, and I just think he'll get a lot better players at LSU."