RENO - Stanford was always Trent Johnson's dream job, and Monday night he realized that dream by agreeing to become the new head basketball coach of the Cardinal.
Johnson, who led the Wolf Pack to a 25-9 record this year and the school's first-ever WAC championship and their first-ever NCAA Tournament victories this season, informed Nevada officials of his decision yesterday. He met with Ted Leland, Stanford athletic director, late last night in Reno to hammer out final details.
"I want to express my gratitude and appreciation to the University and the community of Reno," said the 47-year-old Johnson, whose prepared statement was read by Cary Groth, the Wolf Pack athletic director at a press conference in Legacy Hall. "The last five years, having the opportunity to serve as the head men's basketball coach, has been an unbelievable journey. I am indebted to Coach (Chris) Ault for giving me this opportunity.
"I would like to thank my staff (of) David Carter, Josh Newman and especially associate head coach Mark Fox, who has been instrumental in the success of this program. Last but not least I would like to thank the student-athletes that I've had the opportunity and privilege to be associated with because without them none of this would have been possible."
The announcement came as no surprise to anyone at Nevada once Mike Montgomery resigned to become the head coach of the Golden State Warriors late last week. Johnson, who was 79-74 overall at Nevada, was an assistant for Stanford for three years, and left Stanford for the Wolf Pack job.
Under Johnson's guidance, the Wolf Pack program improved each year, and Nevada knocked off Kansas, Michigan State and Gonzaga this season. The Woilf Pack finished the year ranked 21st in the country, a best for the program.
"Trent Johnson has become one of the top basketball coaches in the country," Leland said. "We are excited to have him rejoin the Stanford athletics family and maintain the excellence that has been established by his predecessors."
Groth said she didn't try to dissuade Johnson from taking the Stanford job.
"When Trent was looking at the University of Utah and made the decision to stay at the University of Nevada he indicated there was one job he wanted, and that was the Stanford job," she said. "It is very difficult to talk someone out of a job that is their dream job. We indicated to Trent we would like him to stay at the University of Nevada, however this is a job he clearly wanted.
"He was torn. Maybe you don't know this, but he's a very emotional man. He made a strong commitment to the University of Nevada. I don't think any of us anticipated this job opening up so quickly and at this time. This was very tough for him; very, very difficult."
Groth was quick to point out that she expected all of the incoming recruits - David Ellis, Mo Charlo, Kevyn Green and Lyndale Burleson - to honor their commitments, and that none would be given a release.
Ellis, the 7-foot 210-pounder from Capital Christian in Sacramento, Calif. said he wasn't surprised that Johnson left.
"I knew it was kind of going to happen (once Montgomery left)," he said. "Coach (Mark) Fox called my dad this morning.
"I think it's OK. I think we'll be strong next year. I'm pretty much going to stay at Nevada because I think the program is still on the rise."
Ellis said he's coming to Reno on June 6 to take some summer school courses and get in the weight room.
Nick Fazekas, the Wolf Pack's starting center, said Johnson called him three or four days ago to let him know he would take the Stanford job if it was offered.
Fazekas is hoping that Fox will be hired as head coach. Fox was the main guy recruiting Fazekas two years ago, and he uncovered a real gem. Fazekas averaged 13.2 points and 7.6 rebounds a game.
"That's what I want to happen," Fazekas said. "We want somebody that is going to run the same stuff; run the same system. Coach Fox is ready.
"There's been one or two times where coach Johnson left practice early, and coach Fox ran practice. He threw a guy out (once). People have the wrong impression of him. He's hard-nosed. People see him as an assistant that's just there to pacify the players. He works as hard as Coach J if not harder."
Fazekas hopes that Groth will listen to some input from the players.
"I will make sure they get my input," he said. "There is no way they shouldn't hear what we have to say. Our input is important because we're the ones that play."
Groth, who has been on the job for about six weeks, said the search for Johnson's replacement had already begun, and that there was a short list of three or four candidates already compiled. She said one or two names might be added, and she hoped that the she would have someone in place by next week.
"I think we're ready for this," she said. "We were ready when he was looking at the University of Utah."
Two names that should be on that list are current associate head coach Mark Fox and assistant coach David Carter. Both of their contracts expire at the end of June.
Fox, who has been an assistant coach for 11 years at Washington, Kansas State and Washington, is currently vacationing in Hawaii, and was unavailable for comment. His wife, Cindy, is Groth's senior administrator at Nevada.
Andy Katz, a senior writer at ESPN.com., who originally broke the Johnson story, was told by his sources that Fox would get the Nevada job.
"We'll find out soon here (what their plans are)," Carter said. "No one has approached me yet. We'll have to wait and see. Things are still kind of up in the air. I'll know more in a couple of days."
The two big name coaches currently unemployed are former Notre Dame and North Carolina coach Matt Doherty and ex-UCLA head coach Steve Lavin, currently an analyst at ESPN. Groth said that both names have come up in conversations, but she wouldn't say whether either was part of the short list.
"We're looking for the right fit, somebody familiar with this region in recruiting and who can win games," Groth said. "We will consider all options. It's a wonderful opportunity and gives us an opportunity to hire a successor that will continue the tradition that Trent and his staff started."
Dr. John Lilley, Nevada's president agreed.
"We're going to do our best to get the very best coach available," Lilley said. "As a result of going to the Sweet 16, people see us in a different light."