The wait is finally over

Arizona Coach Jay Johnson On Excitement For 2021, Recruiting

Former Arizona Wildcats coach Jay Johnson has been hired to succeed Paul Mainieri as head skipper for the LSU Tigers baseball team, and thousands of experts who possess a vast knowledge of the game of baseball voiced their well-informed opinions on social media Thursday afternoon.

Some pointed out how great they thought the hire was while others were upset that LSU athletic director Scott Woodward didn’t hire [insert name of whatever coach the fanbase fantasized about for four weeks here].

I am not like most. If I would’ve been offered the winning Powerball ticket to name Arizona’s coach one month ago, I still wouldn’t know who my long-lost relatives are today.

However, what I lack in knowledge of random baseball coaches, I make up for in my ability to Google. I will state some of the facts, and it will be incumbent upon my loyal readership to draw their own conclusions.

Johnson coached at Nevada for two seasons before arriving at Arizona in 2016. He led the Wildcats for 5 seasons (not including the Covid-plagued 2020 year) earning two trips to the College World Series and three overall postseason appearances. Johnson’s Wildcats made it to the championship series in 2016 where they were eventually defeated by Coastal Carolina.

Johnson’s overall record at Arizona was 208-114 (.646) and his record in the Pac-12 was a lackluster 82-67 (.550).

Arizona had a successful 2021 season where they captured the Pac-12 championship en route to Omaha, Nebraska, where the Wildcats went 0-2 at the CWS.

Actual baseball pundits with real Twitter handles credit Johnson’s Arizona teams for their offensive prowess, and the Wildcats have an average batting average of .311 since 2017 (this year was as far back as the primitive Arizona Wildcats sports website would allow me to search). Arizona finished the 2021 season with a .325 batting average which was good for fourth in the entire NCAA Division I.

Johnson is also well-known for his recruiting, and his recruiting classes finished in the top-10 twice and the top-25 once according to Many fans wanted a coach with Louisiana/southern ties for recruiting purposes, but I see the potential benefits of not checking that box.

Most kids from Louisiana with any skill in baseball will dream about wearing those championship gold jerseys with Tigers across their chests in a pivotal SEC game. These are not kids who will need a Will Wade “basketball scholarship” to be persuaded to play for LSU.

Instead, LSU now has a coach who knows the recruiting terrain of the west coast to marry with the program’s recognition and reputation which should help him continue to recruit the South well.

So, what are the drawbacks to the Johnson hire?

I’d say that it’s clear his LSU teams will have to perform better than his Arizona teams did in conference play. He’s also going to have a rough entry on the recruiting front as former LSU assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Nolan Cain has moved on to join Jim Schlossnagle’s staff at Texas A&M.

Much of Arizona’s success this season is attributed to assistant coach Nate Yeskie, who won pitching coach of the year, but it is unlikely that Yeskie will follow Johnson to LSU.

Despite these negatives, Johnson is a young coach at 44 years old and has a lot of upside if he is the skipper that his young resume suggests.

This combination of youth and success was exactly the recipe that many fans were wise to ask for, but it comes without the ill-tempered brashness of a Tony Vitello whose flawed Tennessee team enjoyed the advantage of playing in a park the size of Zoolander’s School for Ants or the personal issues that arose with a candidate like ECU’s Cliff Godwin.

Only time will tell if Johnson is the right fit for the LSU baseball program, but a future with a talented, young roster returning and a successful, young coach to boot should have fans eager for the start of the 2022 season.

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