LSU's new baseball coach Jay Johnson 'knows how to build championship programs and bring them to Omaha'

Glenn Guilbeau
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

BATON ROUGE - LSU athletics director Scott Woodward went for offense and a proven winner in his search for a new baseball coach. Enter Jay Johnson.

"First of all, I wanted someone who was ready," Woodward said as he introduced Johnson at Alex Box Stadium on Monday. "Ready for this moment, ready for the expectations, ready to win championships."

Johnson, 44, coached six years at Arizona, which was a college baseball brand long before LSU as the Wildcats won national championships in 1976, '80 and '86 and finished second in '56, '59 and '63. Arizona then won another national title in 2012 - three years after LSU's sixth and last one.

Johnson took the Wildcats to their fourth national championship runner-up finish in his first season in 2016 and returned to Omaha this season.

LSU athletics director Scott Woodward interviewed five people for the baseball coaching job - former Oregon State coach Pat Casey, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, East Carolina coach Cliff Godwin, Notre Dame coach Link Jarrett and Arizona coach Jay Johnson, who got the job.

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"There is nobody in the world who is more ready for this job than Jay Johnson because he's been preparing for this moment his entire life," Woodward said. "I wanted to hire a winner, someone who had proven he knew how to build championship programs and bring them to Omaha. That's Jay Johnson."

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Before Johnson's first season as Nevada's coach in 2014, the Wolf Pack went 25-33 and 11-10 in the Mountain West Conference in 2013. In 2015, Johnson's team finished 41-15 and won the school's first Mountain West title at 21-6.

Arizona was 31-24 overall and 12-18 in the Pac-12 in 2015.

"Everywhere he goes, he wins immediately," Woodward said. "I had a clear picture of the qualities I wanted in the next head coach of the premier college baseball program in the country. I wanted to hire a teacher, someone who was passionate about our student-athletes and their success on the field, in the classroom and in the community. That's Jay Johnson."

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Johnson's stats 'will be music to the ears' of LSU fans

Woodward also wanted offense, which tends to sell tickets.

In 2021, Arizona (45-18, 21-9 Pac-12 champions) led the nation in hits with 737 and was fourth in batting average at .325 and in on base average at .422 while finishing sixth in runs scored with 537 - 8.5 a game.

"I know these stats will be music to the ears of those LSU fans who remember fondly the 'gorilla ball' days," Woodward said of the late 1990s as LSU set the NCAA record for home runs in 1997 with 188 on its way to the Tigers' fourth national title.

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The Wildcats hit 70 home runs (66th in the nation) this season, but its stadium, Hi Corbett Field, is large by SEC standards at 410 feet to center field and 366 and 349 in left and right, respectively.

"Jay is a dedicated student of the game who is great at developing hitters," LSU outgoing president Thomas Galligan said at the news conference.

Johnson has primarily been a hitting coach since his years as an assistant at the University of San Diego under coach Rich Hill from 2006-13.

"I was afforded an opportunity to really figure out offensive baseball, and then what does your team need to do and what it's rooted in," he said. "And I have some very strong beliefs in terms of mechanics, vision, at-bats and what we call moving the offense. Our players will know what's going to be required to move the offense, to score runs."

'We'll incorporate a little bit of everything'

LSU fans should know that Johnson also plays small ball at times. In 2016, the Wildcats were among the nation's leaders in sacrifice bunts.

"That's how that team was built," he said. "We'll incorporate a little bit of everything. Ultimately, I want teams to hate to play us. We accomplished that the last couple of offensive teams we had, and that's what I want to do at LSU."

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Johnson also wants to win championships, and Woodward expects them from him and his other previous major hire - women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey, who won three at Baylor.

"I want to congratulate Scott Woodward on making yet another great coaching hire for LSU," Galligan said.