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Et Tu, KJ?

Assistant Head Coach / Recruiting Demigod / Lord of the Eastern AAU Programs Kenny Johnson has accepted an assistant coaching job with Louisville. Hoosier Nation rushes to hit the panic button only to find it jammed permanently into position. Somewhere, the perception of a dumpster fire gets bigger.

Look it's Kenny Johnson! Back there behind Tom Crean, who is apparently bracing himself for a tackle.
Look it's Kenny Johnson! Back there behind Tom Crean, who is apparently bracing himself for a tackle.
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Today, in: "Good God What Is Happening In Bloomington" we look at the normally innocuous departure of an assistant coach and wonder if WE SHOULD JUST BURN THE PROGRAM DOWN AND START OVER:

As Indiana wades through one of the most tumultuous offseasons in the Tom Crean era, the program must go forward without an assistant coach who has arguably become the most famous and important assistant coach to ever come through the program. Kenny Johnson was hired by Tom Crean almost exactly two years ago after having previously served as an assistant coach for Towson University. Like most assistant coaching hires, we read this news, did nothing in response, and moved on with our lives.

His departure, however, has elicited the ... well ... opposite response.

In his two years in Bloomington, it became very apparent why Crean targeted an assistant coach from a CAA program that hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991 for his staff, and that reason was his east coast connections. KJ helped Indiana establish an east coast pipeline that delivered guys like Noah Vonleh, Troy Williams, and Robert Johnson to Bloomington. Players spoke highly of him, Crean spoke highly of him, by the end of this season fans spoke highly of him; he was, by all accounts, an incredibly valuable asset to the program. When an assistant coach is getting recognition from a fanbase, it's probably a pretty special dude.

Therein lies the rub with assistant coaches, however, as the great ones don't stay. The nature of sports generally requires one to move around in order to move up and while him taking over as a head coach somewhere would make the whole situation more palatable, it's premature to say for sure why he left. What we do know is this:

  • Going off the IU website, Kenny Johnson was third on the totem pole at IU behind Crean. Both Steve McClain and Ted Buckley are listed as Associate Head Coaches while KJ is listed as an Assistant Head Coach / Recruiting Coordinator. He was paid $200,000 per year.
  • Louisville's own apparent "recruiting ace" left Louisville to become head coach at UNC-Wilmington at the end of March, leaving Pitino a vacancy he needed to fill. (Phrasing)
  • Maryland, KJ's alma mater, was said to be in a bidding way with Louisville for his services.
  • April is a really inconvenient time to lose a great recruiter.

One theory (and the clubhouse leader, after going through the #iubb tag) is that KJ wanted nothing more to do with the dumpster fireyness that IU had taken on in the last year and took the first train out of town. I simply don't have the data to tell you how many assistants leave big time programs to be assistants at other big time programs, but if the salary figures come out and Johnson's presumed raise is significant, we might be best served citing Occam's Razor and moving on with the offseason.

Maybe IU didn't have the resources needed to compete in a three school bidding war because of resources already tied up with the two men ahead of him. Or maybe there wasn't an amount they could pay to keep him because he wanted out of B-Town at all costs. The people who know the answer aren't likely to go on record about it. If this happened during any other offseason, we probably wouldn't be tempted by the sinister conclusions, but for now, it just feels like another gut punch in a year where IU can't get anything right.

Kenny Johnson helped build the east coast pipeline to Bloomington and it's on Tom Crean and his staff to maintain it. It doesn't necessarily have to evaporate because they lost the man who built it. KJ gave IU goodwill that can still be traded on if the staff does right by the players who go there. 'Crootin is about relationships and no one knows that better than Crean, who has built his reputation on the players he's brought in and developed. I don't doubt Crean's ability to find a suitable replacement, but Kenny Johnson will be missed. The net effect of his departure, however, has yet to be determined.

Also, let's agree that when Crean hires KJ's replacement and we likely have no idea who he is, we remember that we didn't know who KJ was when he was hired, either.