Sunday's basketball: Alabama dismisses Johnson after NIT exit
Tuscaloosa, Ala. — Avery Johnson brought attention, more fans and several highly rated recruits to Alabama’s basketball program. He could not, however, win enough to stick around.
Athletic director Greg Byrne announced Sunday that Alabama and Johnson “made the decision to mutually part ways” after his fourth season coaching the Crimson Tide.
Johnson’s buyout under a contract extension reached in August 2017 would be $8 million.
“It was an honor and privilege to work with these young men and their families,” Johnson said in a statement. “This was an opportunity of a lifetime, and we truly enjoyed our experience at Alabama.”
The former NBA point guard and head coach led the Tide to a 75-62 record in four seasons, including a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2018 that broke a six-year drought. Alabama lost five of its last six games this past season, including a first-round upset by Norfolk State in the NIT on Tuesday night.
Johnson had success on the recruiting trail, landing five-star prospects in Collin Sexton and current freshman Kira Lewis Jr. Sexton left after one season and was an NBA lottery pick.
Alabama also set single-season total and per-game attendance records at Coleman Coliseum during his tenure. But a lackluster performance in the 80-79 overtime loss to Norfolk State was the final blow after late-season stumbles kept the Tide from making another trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Johnson’s hiring made a splash for a program often overshadowed by Nick Saban and football. As a player, he helped the San Antonio Spurs win an NBA championship in 1999. He also played for Golden State, Seattle, Denver, Dallas and Houston during a 16-year professional career.
He was named NBA coach of the year after leading the Dallas Mavericks to their first appearance in the finals in 2005-06. Johnson coached the Mavericks for four seasons and the Brooklyn Nets for two-plus seasons.
Alabama was his first college coaching job.
Tide associate head coach John Pelphrey will serve as interim head coach.
Byrne said this “was not an easy decision,” but expressed optimism that it would be an attractive job.
“There are so many desirables here at the University of Alabama, and the brand itself gives all of our teams the ability to recruit nationally,” he said. “This is such a great place, and people want to be part of it.”
Cal fires coach
The University of California fired basketball coach Wyking Jones after Cal won just eight games in each of his first two seasons.
Athletic director Jim Knowlton announced the decision days after reports emerged that Jones had been told he would return to Cal for a third season. Knowlton met with Cal’s players last week and then told Jones on Sunday.
Cal has hired a search firm to find its next head coach “ASAP,” Knowlton said, and he also has already formed his own short list of candidates he would like to bring in for interviews. Assistant Marty Wilson has agreed to serve as interim coach while the rest of the staff is under contract and Knowlton will let the next coach decide on who might be retained.
Knowlton thanked Jones for his giving it “100 percent every day” in his dedication to the program and called the firing a difficult decision, crediting Jones for doing “so many things well,” such as “connecting with our student-athletes and really helping them in all parts of their lives, in the academic arena and growing as young men and certainly as basketball players.” Jones had three years remaining on a five-year, $5 million contract.
Some supporters and alums urged Knowlton to give Jones one more season, but in the end Knowlton said “I have to make good decisions for our program.”
Thanks to generous donor support, Knowlton expects to be able to pursue a top-tier coach, saying, “We’re going to go out and find the right coach for Cal.” He also will tell candidates Cal is working to build a practice facility.
Jones had a 16-47 record during his time at Cal. The Golden Bears followed up a school-record 16-game losing streak by winning the final three regular-season games this season.
Jones won just five conference games in his two seasons at Cal, finishing last in the Pac-12 both years. Attendance fell significantly this year as fans and students grew frustrated with the direction of the program that has made one trip to the NCAA Tournament the past six years.
Hunter takes Tulane job
Less than 48 hours after Georgia State was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, Ron Hunter decided to leave the Panthers to become Tulane’s coach.
Best known for tumbling to the court after his son hit a winning shot in the 2015 tournament, Hunter told the Associated Press that he had received other offers in the past but thought this was perhaps his final chance to make a move.
Georgia State’s season ended with an 84-55 loss to Houston on Friday. Hunter met the following day with Tulane officials for four hours and quickly realized it was time to move on after coaching the Panthers for eight seasons.
“I wanted to sleep on it,” he said in a telephone interview. “When I woke up this morning, I knew.”
Hunter plans to head to New Orleans on Monday, with a formal introduction to come the next day. His decision was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The 54-year-old Hunter takes over a Tulane men’s basketball program that fired Mike Dunleavy after the Green Wave failed to win a game in the American Athletic Conference. He has no doubts that he’ll be able to turn things around, though he couldn’t resist a joke about the low expectations.
“I’ll be a rock star if we win four games next year,” Hunter said with a laugh.
The biggest factor in leaving Georgia State, a sprawling school in downtown Atlanta that has struggled to carve a niche in the city’s crowded sports scene, was its membership in one of those obscure leagues that never gets more than one NCAA Tournament bid.
Hunter’s best team in Atlanta may have been his 2013-14 squad, which went 17-1 in the Sun Belt Conference but lost the final of the league tournament in overtime, forcing the Panthers to settle for a spot in the NIT.
The American, on the other hand, landed four teams in this year’s NCAA field: Houston, Cincinnati, UCF and Temple.
“I’m tired of one-bid leagues,” said Hunter, who faced the same predicament in his previous head coaching job at IUPUI, a member of the Mid-Continent Conference and Summit League during his tenure. “That’s very frustrating to me. You can win your league, but you have one bad weekend (at the conference tournament) and you’ve got no chance. It doesn’t matter what you do all year. That was getting old for me. I wanted to get to a multi-bid league.”
Tulane presents similar challenges to the ones he faced at Georgia State and IUPUI, a school in Indianapolis where he coached from 1994-2011.
“They were both programs in major cities that had struggled,” Hunter said. “That’s something I’m very comfortable with. I like taking programs that most people don’t believe can win. I know when I took the Georgia State job, people thought I was crazy.”
He faces quite a rebuilding job at Tulane.
The Green Wave hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1995, hasn’t had a winning season since 2012-13, and went 24-69 the last three years under Dunleavy, including an 8-46 mark in conference play.