Avery Johnson

Submitted by on Sep 25, 2015

Avery Johnson tells story of how he became Alabama’s new basketball coach

“We had an unbelievable first meeting, and one thing led to another and here we are,”

It started with a message from Bill Battle. Avery Johnson was intrigued.

Out of coaching more than two years, the former NBA champion’s name had been floated for other jobs. Johnson already had the itch when the Alabama athletics director reached out last Thursday. Only a day earlier, the Crimson Tide publicly lost its bid to land Gregg Marshall from Wichita State. It didn’t take long for the search to narrow again.

A preliminary agreement came two days later and the deal was done Monday night. The Little General is coming to Alabama with a six-year, almost $18 million contract. Johnson’s set to land in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday evening with a news conference set for 11 a.m. Wednesday.

But before they met in person, Johnson had a few questions for Battle. Was he the only candidate? How many others? One of three coaches they’d contacted, Johnson quickly emerged as a front runner.

Battle flew to Dallas on Saturday along with Finis St. John, chairman of the UA Board of Trustees’ athletics committee.

“We had an unbelievable first meeting and one thing led to another and here we are,” Johnson told AL.com in his first interview since being hired.

Though things happened fast, Johnson was cautious at the beginning.

“I wanted to make sure they were really serious about this because my name was obviously being mentioned for other college jobs even though I hadn’t officially interviewed for any,”Johnson said.”But we obviously heard my name was in play and I was waiting to interview for some NBA jobs, so I wanted to make sure they were really serious about this and I could hear in his voice that they were serious and said all the right things.”

Johnson’s name had been mentioned in connection with the Texas job but the Longhorns hired Shaka Smart on Thursday.

Battle, St. John and Johnson met for several productive hours Saturday.

“And basically when they left here on Saturday, there was an understanding at that point that I was going to be the University of Alabama’s next basketball coach,” Johnson said.

The final details were hammered out Monday and the announcement came just after 8 p.m.

So why college basketball? Johnson’s only coaching experience came in the NBA, compiling a 440-254 record in parts of seven seasons with the Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets.

Johnson said he was re-energized in the two-plus years since he was fired by the Nets. He saw the college basketball machine work up close with the recruitment and freshman season of his son Avery Johnson Jr. at Texas A&M last season.

Johnson Jr. will remain an Aggie, his father said. There are no plans for him to transfer to the SEC program his father now coaches.

“He’s excited for me in this new challenge,”Johnson said of his son.”He’s always wanted me to coach in college. He didn’t want me to go back to the NBA. my whole family got a chance to meet coach Battle and Mr. St. John. So it was more than just my decision. It was a family decision and my kids were really pushing me to do this. As excited as I was, they were five times as excited.”

Working through the process with his son, Johnson got to work with high-level AAU players in Texas.

“I just got really excited by it,”he said.”I was thinking this could be a different challenge, a different opportunity so I thought with my skill set, I could best help in terms of leadership, character development, help players who aspire to be NBA players, help them reach their goals with my wealth of knowledge and resources.”

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