Princeton's Sydney Johnson Headed to Fairfield; Let the Speculation as to Succession Run Rampant
Note to my readers: something's up with blogspot.com 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!