CRAWFORD | Padgett makes a solid first hire; Johnson brings experience, familiarity
David Padgett found not only an assistant coach with a wealth of head-coaching experience, but someone he has known since high school in veteran coach Trent Johnson.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – One task at a time. When you’re David Padgett, and you’ve taken over the University of Louisville basketball program from your Hall of Fame mentor, under unprecedented circumstances, that’s all you can do. Check boxes.
The best you can manage, one task at a time. Run this practice as well as you can. Conduct that individual instruction as well as you can.
The job can be overwhelming, because even if everything isn’t new, it is new. When given an opportunity to fill his first assistant coaching position – his old position – Padgett did the best job he could do.
Turns out, he did awfully well. Padgett tapped Trent Johnson, a veteran of coaching stops at Stanford, Nevada, LSU and TCU, to join him on the Cardinals’ staff. Johnson, 61, has known Padgett since the former Louisville standout played with his son in high school in Nevada. He’s respected in the profession, has been on the board of directors of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, and has been coach of the year in three conferences – WAC, Pac-10 and SEC.
Padgett knew he needed an experienced hand, someone who had been in the head coach’s chair. He had looked around the nation for such a coach, and Johnson was a natural pick.
“He's one of the most experienced head coaches out there and with the timing of all this it couldn't have worked out better on his end and for me,” Padgett said. “I don't think I could have made a better hire. . . . I literally could not have hired a better guy.”
Johnson was at home, playing with three granddaughters, knowing he would venture back into the game soon enough.
“I haven't raised my voice and said a bad word in a year and I have three little grandchildren, so ‘shut up’ has been a bad word,” Johnson said. “So I'm looking forward to getting out on the floor and throwing some words around.”
In the past year, Johnson has visited many practices, helped Mike Montgomery coach a team of Pac-12 All-Stars on a foreign trip, and went on a foreign tour with Mark Fox’s Georgia team.
“Retirement's not a word to me. I'm a basketball lifer. I've never changed. Basketball's a part of my life,” he said. “. . . I was going to be in somebody's gym sooner or later in some capacity, but when this opportunity presented itself I felt I had a responsibility to help him out and I was available. Retirement, I don't know what that means, I really don't.”
Padgett has done a very smart thing in what few free hours he’s had since taking over the job. He’s called coaches, working and retired, head coaches and assistants, and picked every brain that would answer a cell phone. But when he asked Johnson for advice during a conversation he had, what Johnson said to him struck him.
“He said, 'Look, nobody's going to be able to give you advice on this situation because nobody's had to replace a Hall of Fame coach three days before practice started.'” Padgett said. “So he said, 'I can give you advice on the coaching aspect, but nobody's ever been in the shoes you're going to fill,' so that obviously jumped out at me.”
Coaching isn’t just what you see on the sidelines. There are practice plans, drills to run, what to work on, individual instructions to schedule. There’s scouting. There’s handling the inevitable crises that come up when you’re coaching 13 college-age individuals. And then there’s the public side, the media, the fans, responsibilities to the wider athletic program.
Padgett says there is no shortage of interest in the assistant coaching jobs at U of L. He called the number of people who have reached out to him “flattering.”
But he wanted his first hire someone who could be a steadying influence to his players, given all they’ve been through in recent weeks, but someone who could help him steady himself when needed.
Johnson has watched the Cardinals on television, and had met the players and talked to them and seen them work out. But beyond that he hasn’t worked with the team. When asked if the position he’s stepping into seems daunting at all, he shook his head.
“Daunting? It's not daunting because this is Louisville,” Johnson said. “And the things that we as coaches can control under David's leadership is what goes on on the floor. I've met a couple of the guys, Ray Spalding, boy how impressive is he is as a young man? So daunting? No. If you treat people like you want to be treated everything takes care of itself.”
“For me it's a learning curve,” Johnson said. “I have to get as much information as I can from his staff, watching video, getting a feel for these guys as individuals and things of that nature. My overall impression is that they're really good quality kids and then looking at how they've handled all of this under David's leadership has been very, very impressive to me.”
Two more Louisville assistant coaches remain on administrative leave from the school, and Padgett said the process of filling those vacancies is more up to the department’s administration than it is to him. Acting athletic director Vince Tyra has said resolving the situation with Jordan Fair and Kenny Johnson is at the top of his list of priorities. In the interim, others from the basketball staff with knowledge of the program have moved into temporary roles to help run practice.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” Padgett said.
With with Johnson’s hire, there is one fewer moving part, and a voice next to Padgett who not only has known him for a long time, but been around the game for a lifetime.
“I'd be absolutely crazy going into this thing without having somebody who has (head-coaching experience) and somebody I know who I had a previous relationship with, somebody I could trust, somebody who has coached at this level are probably the biggest things,” Padgett said. “And the timing of the whole thing couldn't have worked out better.”
One more box checked. Many more to go.
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