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Monday, April 04, 2011

Princeton's Sydney Johnson Headed to Fairfield; Let the Speculation as to Succession Run Rampant

Note to my readers: something's up with in terms of eliminating my paragraphing. I'm looking into it, it's annoying, but please bear with me. Thanks. After a four-year run in which he helped rebuild the Princeton men's basketball program, head coach Sydney Johnson is headed to what has to be a greener pasture, Fairfield. Click here for the brief report from The Daily Princetonian that announces Johnson's move. It's hard at first blush to see the logic in the move. Fairfield has a decent hoops tradition with a Princeton alum as its president, but it's not exactly as though he is making a move to Georgetown, a la John Thompson III, who did well at Princeton as a coach. It's more like a move to Denver, where Johnson's predecessor Joe Scott went, and Scott did not fare well at Princeton. In fact, you could make a convincing argument that Scott took the best job out there at a time when his future at Princeton looked to be in jeopardy. Johnson was beloved on the Princeton campus as an undergrad, was a three-time captain (unheard of), was the Ivy Player of the Year in a season when he averaged less than 10 points a game and once was stopped by Bob Knight after Princeton played valiantly against Indiana and Knight complimented him at length that he played the game the way it was meant to be played. After Princeton, he played pro ball in Italy before returning to the U.S. to assist Thompson III at Georgetown. He then came to Princeton when the brand was damaged, as Scott failed to conjure up the magic in central New Jersey the way he did when he won national coach of the year awards while at Air Force. More than that, he not only repaired the brand, but he got the team to its first NCAA tournament in 7 years. And now, it would appear, that he's cashed in, as it has to be the case that Fairfield offered him a lot more money than Princeton could. Cynics would argue that he also jumped as Harvard loaded itself up so much that it looks primed to make a Cornell-like run over the next three years. Put differently, the times are akin to the early 2000's, when Bill Carmody left Princeton after Ugonna Onyekwe's freshman year at Penn, when Penn looked very loaded (only to have Thompson III display what had to be one of the all-time Ivy coaching jobs in taking a depleted Princeton team to the Ivy title over Penn the year after Carmody left). That said, Carmody left for a step up at Northwestern, where he was primed for the challenge of trying to take the Wildcats to their first NCAA tournament ever. He still has failed to accomplish that goal. Johnson, on the other hand, has determined to go to the Fairfield Stags in a conference that only the most diehard hoops fans could quickly name, perhaps determined to use that post as a stepping stone to a Top 6 conference. I'm sure we'll find out the reasoning soon enough. I'm sure that Princeton fans will be all over this one, with many down on Johnson. I will not be one of them. I'm grateful for all his contributions and wish him well in Connecticut. Now, let the speculation begin as to who will succeed Johnson. Princeton prefers to keep it within the family, which would seem to knock out assistant Tony Newsome, who isn't an alum. It could be that assistant Brian Earl would get a look, as would Mike Brennan, Class of '94, an assistant for Thompson at Georgetown and a former Princeton assistant (with a stop in between at American), as would Mitch Henderson, who played on those great teams at the end of the 90's and who has assisted Bill Carmody for about the past 10 years. You might also think of adding Craig Robinson, the Oregon State coach, to the list. Robinson had success at Brown but has struggled in Corvallis, even if it's hard to figure that once you've gotten a taste of the Pac-10 you'd want to return to the small arenas and bus rides of the Ivies. Going beyond that, there's Howard Levy, a former long-time Princeton assistant who's now the head coach at Mercer County CC near Princeton (a longshot, but a good basketball mind). Outside the Princeton family, you might think of the Bucknell coach, Dave Paulsen, who once coached DIII Williams to a national title, and Lafayette's Fran O'Hanlon, who made it to the round of eight when Johnson was hired four years ago. More speculation will ensue, particularly among the Princeton faithful, once they recover from the shock that Johnson would have thought to leave Princeton after only four years. Perhaps there are candidates outside the box, so to speak, so it will be interesting to see who else's name will surface. Let the speculation begin!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it would be unfair to eliminate Tony Newsom from consideration. He's been an assistant at Princeton for 7 years, which is longer than most former players like Mitch Henderson have been on campus. And Carmody was not an alum either, having been an assistant for only 3 more years than Tony has so far. One argument for hiring an alum might have been that an alum would be less likely to bolt after 4 years for a better job. So much for that theory.

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, I did not see this coming. I'd guess Fairfield offered 2X-4X what Sydney was pulling in at Princeton, and it was a straight financial decision. Nothing else makes any sense to me. I don't blame him for leaving if that was the case, but it does leave me very frustrated with a school awash in money not being able to retain a top-notch coach.

10:31 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for your comments.

As to the first one, Carmody was Carril's guy and played for Gary Walters at Union College, so there was a huge connection. Newsome coached under Scott and Johnson, so that's far from the Carmody nexus. So, with all do respect, so much for that theory. That said, you make a good point re: who would be unlikely to bolt. Then again, don't we want someone who might be likely to bolt, if only because he's good and therefore desirable?

As for the second one, retention is the key issue. If it's purely money, well, the Ivies just won't go that high because it's not consistent with their academic mission and at some point we all have to admit that the salaries of these coaches are insane, especially at schools where the revenue is small (and that would include Princeton and Fairfield). It's not a huge issue for me, though, if a coach stays 5 years and then moves on to a bigger job, as that would make the Princeton job very attractive to a good coach on the rise (and, presumably, coaches will leave because they're successful).

I think that the days of a Carril staying 29 years or a Dunphy over 15 are probably over. Getting someone for 6-8 years might be the best that we can do.

Let the speculation begin!

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike Maker, Williams coach and former Princeton finalist. Experience at Dartmouth when they had success running the system, and at Samford, which ran the system. Even West Virginia ran a version of it when he was there. Tremendous success at Williams. Worth keeping an eye on.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There has been some speculation that Bill Carmody might be interested in coming back - NJ is his home, some people are complaining that he hasn't turned water into wine at Northwestern, and after earning over $10-million in his time at Northwestern, money might not be much of a motivator for him any more.

I find that to be unlikely. I'd love to see Craig Robinson, but find that possibility to be unlikely as well.

1:15 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for your comments.

Maker is an interesting choice, and so is Carmody. Robinson would have to be a long shot. Carmody has to be 57, so this would be his last stop and he could groom a successor the way Carril groomed him. That's an intriguing possibility, as it's hard to see him lasting a whole lot longer at Northwestern.

I'm not hung up about losing a coach every 4-5 years if the team wins and goes to the tournament once in a while and if the departing coach gets a better opportunity. If both of those things were to happen, the Princeton job would be a very attractive one for a coach on the rise.

It's hard to see that there's an obvious candidate out there. Johnson wasn't that obvious the last time because people thought that he lacked experience. I'm sure at some point the list of finalists will leak, and we'll all be surprised at some of the names.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I for one do NOT think the decision was not financially based. From what I have heard, there was a lack of support for him at Princeton from administration. Sydney succeeded despite this lack of support and I only wish him the best as coach of Fairfield.

4:59 PM  

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