North Texas head coach Johnny Jones has spoken with LSU officials about the school’s opening for a men’s basketball coach, multiple sources close to the situation said Wednesday.
Jones played at LSU and spent 13 years at the school as an assistant coach. He interviewed for the position the last time it was open in the spring of 2008, before Trent Johnson was hired.
“That job is on its third time around in the last five or six years and Johnny’s name is always associated with it,” UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said. “Every time it comes open, with the success he has had, he will be mentioned.”
Villarreal acknowledged that he has given LSU permission to talk to Jones, who played for the Tigers from 1980-84 and joined Dale Brown’s coaching staff after completing his playing career.
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva has also spoken to or will speak with Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus and Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, in addition to Jones, according to New Orleans’ Times-Picayune.
LSU is looking for a replacement for Johnson, who left for TCU earlier this week.
Jones earned the nickname “The Bullet” during his playing career and helped lead the Tigers to the Final Four in 1981. He was an assistant coach at LSU when the Tigers returned to the Final Four in 1986 and helped recruit Shaquille O’Neal, who went on to a storied career, both at LSU and in the NBA.
Jones gradually built UNT’s program from the ground up after taking over following one of the worst stretches in school history. UNT won only 20 games in the four seasons before Jones arrived in 2001.
UNT broke through in the 2006-07 season, Jones’ sixth at the school, when the Mean Green finished 23-11, won the Sun Belt Conference tournament and earned an NCAA tournament bid.
UNT has won at least 18 games in each season since and has advanced to finals of the SBC tournament in four of the last six seasons.
Jones’ connections to LSU could make him an attractive candidate. He is a Louisiana native and graduated from DeRidder High School.
UNT has recruited Louisiana successfully during Jones’ tenure. Josh White, who finished as the Mean Green’s fourth all-time leading scorer with 1,668 points, signed with UNT out of Baton Rouge, La., Christian Life.
Kedrick Hogans, who started 15 games last season before suffering a knee injury that limited him the rest of the year, graduated from New Orleans Karr.
Brown is still an influential figure at LSU and has often said that Jones is like a son to him. The two recently coached together at the Reese’s College All-Star Game in New Orleans.
“One of the wisest decision I’ve ever made as a coach was hiring Johnny,” Brown said before the game.
Brown has since publically endorsed Jones for the job that will likely begin with a tough rebuilding project after LSU finished 18-15 last season under Johnson.
Center Justin Hamilton, a second-team All-SEC selection and one of LSU’s top underclassmen, declared for the NBA draft after averaging 12.9 points and 7.2 rebounds a game last season.
Jones could soon have the opportunity to take on the challenge of rebuilding the program at his alma mater, just like he rebuilt the program at UNT.
He made an impression the last time he coached a game at LSU.
Jones took UNT to Baton Rouge in the 2010-11 season, led the Mean Green to a 75-55 drubbing of the Tigers and received a standing ovation from the fans in the stands as he left the court.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.