Trent Johnson (Getty Images)When Trent Johnson abruptly resigned from LSU on Sunday to accept TCU's coaching job, the move probably raised some eyebrows among those who don't view the move as a step up in the profession.
Dig a little deeper, however, and Johnson's motivation will become clearer.
There's a vocal segment of LSU fans dissatisfied with the job Johnson did in Baton Rouge during his four-year tenure because the Tigers missed the NCAA tournament each of his final three seasons. A strong 2011 recruiting class and an 18-win season last year bought Johnson more time, but he may have needed to make the NCAA tournament next season to save his job despite the surprising departure of center Justin Hamilton to the NBA draft.
Lending credence to that theory is the statement LSU athletic director Joe Alleva released Sunday night that didn't exactly sound heartbroken by Johnson's departure. Said Alleva, "Sometimes coaching changes work out well for all parties involved, and we will take this opportunity to seek out the best coach for the long-term future of LSU men's basketball."
An NCAA tournament berth at LSU next season would not have been impossible with the return of promising sophomores Anthony Hickey and Johnny O'Bryant. The Tigers will lack frontcourt depth without Hamilton, however, and may need to go to a four-guard lineup with the 6-foot-9 O'Bryant in the middle.
TCU doesn't have the returning talent LSU does after graduating its two best players from an 18-win team, but the Horned Frogs job is more appealing now than it has been in the past. Not only will TCU join the Big 12 next season, the Horned Frogs also appear more committed to basketball than in the past assuming they at least matched the $1.2 million base salary Johnson made at LSU.
One of the questions Johnson will face at TCU is whether his reserved, sometimes standoffish demeanor is a good fit for a Horned Frogs program that needs someone who can energize a notoriously apathetic hoops fan base. The other major criticism of Johnson has been whether he recruits well enough to succeed at a high-major job.
Aside from O'Bryant, Johnson did not land many highly ranked recruits in four years at LSU and has no obvious recruiting ties to Texas. Even in his previous stop at Stanford, he landed twins Brook and Robin Lopez because of ties between their mother and the school but left a nearly threadbare roster for successor Johnny Dawkins.
Maybe Johnson will have more sustained recruiting success at TCU than he did his prior two stops. Either way, it's a good gamble for a coach whose job security in Baton Rouge was dwindling every year.