ENGSTER: Cheers not jeers for Johnny Jones

President, Tiger Rag Magazine

One of the most asinine suggestions in recent days is the call by more than a few blowhards to fire LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones. Athletic Director Joe Alleva would be justified in sacking women’s coach Nikki Fargas, but Jones is a different story. Based on his four-year record at his alma mater, Jones warrants a contract extension, not a firing squad.

Jones and Co. performed below expectations in the one-year Ben Simmons Era, but Jones has completed his first four years as head coach at LSU with a better record in his initial four seasons than any of his predecessors since the SEC began play in 1932. Take a look.

[table] LSU Coach,First 4 Years,SEC Record,Percent

Johnny Jones,2012-2016,40-32,.556

Trent Johnson,2004-2008,25-39, .391

John Brady, 1997-2001,20-44,.313

Dale Brown, 1972-1976,26-46,.361

Press Maravich,1966-1970,29-43,.403

Jay McCreary,1957-1961,14-42,250

Total,With Jones,154-246,.385

Total,Before Jones,114-214,.348 [/table]

The reality is that LSU, with the exception of the Dale Brown peak from 1978 to 1993, has not been a consistent basketball power since Bob Pettit left the University in 1954.

Brown directed the Tigers to a SEC record of 186-98 (.655) in 16 seasons from 1978-93. In the other 42 seasons preceding the hiring of Johnny Jones (1955-77) and (1993-2008), the LSU ledger in the conference was a putrid 242-433 (.359).

The overall SEC record for LSU from 1955 to 2012 (58 seasons), including the Dale Brown glory years, was 428-531 (.446) prior to Jones taking the post. Jones has clearly outpaced his coaching brothers with the Tigers.

Jones has guided LSU to two consecutive winning records in the SEC. That modest streak is equaled or surpassed in the last 62 seasons only four times. Press Maravich guided LSU to winning conference marks in 1970 (13-5) and 1971 (10-8). Dale Brown piloted his teams to winning SEC records for eight years from 1978-85 (12-6, 14-4, 14-4, 17-1, 11-7, 10-8, 11-7, 13-5) and for another six seasons from 1988-93 (10-8, 11-7, 12-6, 13-5, 12-4, 9-7). John Brady had two straight winning seasons in the league in 2005 (12-4) and in 2006 (14-2).

Since 1954, LSU has enjoyed winning records in the league only 23 times in 62 seasons. Jones is 11-7 in the past two years which were preceded by a pair of 9-9 conference records in his first two campaigns at LSU. The man Jones succeeded, Trent Johnson, was 12-36 in his final three years in the SEC. the cupboard was hardly full when the man from Deridder arrived in TigerTown.

If LSU fans are anticipating the same kind of monolithic success in basketball as in football and baseball, they should stop dreaming of the impossible. LSU is not situated to be the power on the court that the Tigers are in other marquee sports. The best that patrons should expect is an exciting brand of play with periods of excellence.

Comparing resources, the Brown years from 1978-93 defied the odds as much as John Wooden’s span of ten NCAA championships at UCLA from 1964-75. Brown and LSU boasted the best program in the SEC for a 16-year span in a league that is dominated by Kentucky and includes an array of other competitive schools.

What Brown did in basketball at LSU during his prime was akin to Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, South Carolina or Arkansas suddenly becoming the best football program in the SEC for a decade and a half. Those four schools have captured a total of one SEC football title in 214 years of collective competition in the league. They are never going to outpace Alabama in a 16-year period. Brown defied the odds, and each of his successors has been measured by his peak seasons.

Jones was a player and coach with Brown for the last 17 years of Daddy Dale’s reign. Nobody knows the lay of the land better than the swift guard who was called “Bullet” during his playing years. The Jones’ nickname sums up the LSU basketball program. An occasional speeding bullet to the top of the league will happen only on occasion with a talented coach like Jones. Otherwise, LSU could face the plight of TCU, which went 8-64 in conference competition the past four seasons under previous Bengal basketball boss Trent Johnson.

Marty Mule’ was supreme talent and gentleman

The Tiger Rag family lost a remarkable member last week.  Marshall Jules “Marty” Mule’ died on March 12 in Mandeville of heart failure at the age of 73. The prolific writer of eight books who logged more than 30 years at the New Orleans Times-Picayune graced the pages of Tiger Rag for more than a decade with his insightful columns about past and present LSU personalities. He loved it when others coined a good phrase as he regularly did in a body of work that will endure for generations.

Marty created images of LSU icons that are everlasting. Nobody chronicled the brilliance of Pete Maravich better than Mule’. Marty covered the Pistol from his breakout in 1966 as a teenager to his death at age 40 in 1988. Only five years older than Pete, Mule’ had a kinship with the Pistol that others did not. The genial scribe was at courtside for Maravich magic from the Cow Palace to Loyola Fieldhouse and the Superdome with the New Orleans Jazz. Marty’s feature written the week of Pete’s death is the signature story about the LSU genius of the hardwood.

It was a pleasure to be seated next to Marty at the First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge for Pete’s funeral on Jan. 9, 1988. It was a bigger honor to have him bring his splendid gifts to the Bible of LSU Sports when Mule’ left the Picayune in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

When former LSU football coach Bill Arnsparger died in December of last year, it was Mule’ who wrote his obituary. Thirty years ago, I thanked Marty for providing me with a superb adjective to describe the often uncommunicative Arnsparger: taciturn. It was also the word that Mule’ employed in his wonderful obit about the crusty fellow who coached the Tigers from 1984-86.

Arnsparger successor Mike Archer was a particular Mule’ favorite. Marty admired the sophistication of the tall, handsome lad from Pennsylvania who attended Mass daily and was married to a devout Jew. “Archer’s failure as head coach was the single most disappointing story in all my years of covering LSU,” Marty once said.

Mule’ friend Bud Johnson, the onetime LSU SID and current director of the Andonie Museum, speculated that Marty’s first question to his maker was probably about the circumstances that caused Coach Bo Rein’s plane to veer a thousand miles off course and crash in the Atlantic Ocean on Jan. 10, 1980.

Mule’s funeral services at Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mandeville were highlighted by heartfelt words of his colleague Ted Lewis. Together they covered LSU and other sporting events for 35 years. Lewis lamented the loss of his best friend who religiously devoted his life to his craft and spread good will in every press box he visited.

Mule’ worked in concert with the legendary Peter Finney for close to half of Finney’s 68-year career with the Times-Picayune. “They were 1 and 1A,” said Jim Kleinpeter, their cohort with the newspaper.

Marty’s page in the last issue of Tiger Rag was poignant as his column reflected on Finney. “Nobody ever put it better” were the final five words that Mule’ penned about Finney. The sentence could also apply to the man who wrote it.

author avatar
Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

1 Comment

  1. You really think Johnny did a good job of coaching this past season? Teams that are well coached (a) play consistently from game to game, (b) get better offensively and, especially, defensively throughout the season, and (c) always play with intensity and effort. By those criteria, Jones did not do a good job in 2015-16. I admit that the talent level was overrated, especially as regards depth. But that’s no excuse for not playing with more cohesion and intensity as the season went on.

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