TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama athletics director Bill Battle said his initial conversation with Avery Johnson happened last Thursday. Had Battle called two days later, he might be still looking for a men's basketball coach.
"Avery told me today -- which is a little scary -- he said, 'ESPN has been pressing me to sign a new deal and elevate some programming, and if you had called two days later, I probably wouldn't have been available,'" Battle said. "So, you never know."
In that first discussion, Battle said he wanted to find out two things: Was Johnson's wife, Cassandra, ready to move to Tuscaloosa, Ala., and what were Johnson's salary expectations.
With both of those details worked out, Battle stood at a podium Wednesday and introduced his latest hire less than a week after that first 30-minute conversation.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"When the University of Alabama calls, you take the phone call," Johnson said.
From there, Battle flew out to Johnson's home in Dallas were the two met and hammered out most of the details that lead to Johnson becoming the 20th head coach in program history.
"After a few hours, he convinced me that he belonged in college basketball," Battle said. "I convinced him, if that was the case, that he belonged at The University of Alabama."
Former Alabama players Trevor Releford and Ronald Steele, former Tide coaches C.M. Newton and Wimp Sanderson, current players, reporters, Alabama trustees and more packed Naylor Stone Media Suite in the Mal Moore Athletic Facility as Johnson was introduced.
Johnson thanked everyone in attendance, but became emotional when he locked eyes with Ben Jobe, his college basketball coach at Southern University. After bouncing between schools early on in college, Johnson played the last two years of his collegiate career under Jobe. Jobe made the drive from Montgomery, Ala.
"He has been a father figure and a mentor," Johnson said, fighting back tears. "I remember when Coach and I would talk over the years, he said 'AJ, you know this basketball thing is too small for you, you're bigger than basketball.' He said 'AJ, I got a plan for you. This is what you need to do. You need to move to Alabama and sometime in your life, you need to become the governor of Alabama.'"
Public office may be a stretch, but Johnson did honor part of his coaches' wishes with his latest move to Alabama.
Johnson, a former NBA coach of the year, will get his first taste of college coaching basketball with the Crimson Tide.
And during his speech, Johnson didn't miss an opportunity to raise expectations. Johnson said Duke University, who won the NCAA championship on Monday, is the standard he wants to aim for at Alabama. Johnson promised supporters of the program that they would would experience something they've never experienced before.
"This is about a pursuit of excellence, it's not about mediocrity," Johnson said. "I wouldn't have signed up for this job if I thought that it was anything but an opportunity to be excellent. We're not thinking just the SEC or the first round of the NCAA tournament or Elite Eight. This is about aspiring higher. This is about getting to the "Big Dance." And if I didn't think that we could do it, I would have stayed in television."
Johnson spent the past few years as an analyst for ESPN after coaching stints with the Dallas Mavericks (2005-08) and the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets (2010-12). While breaking down games on NBA Countdown with Jalen Rose and Doris Burke was fun, Johnson still missed coaching.
"I think especially when my son (Avery Jr.) went to college (Texas A&M," Johnson said. "I went to over half of that other team's (Texas A&M) games last year, you know the other team in the SEC. I went to over half of their games, both home and away. The more you're around it, I'm thinking, 'Boy, I could do this.' I missed it."
The exact details of Johnson's contract haven't been released, but reports have the deal at six-years and valued between $17-18 million.
"Even though Coach Battle blessed me with a six-year contract, it's not going to take that long Coach," Johnson said. "I've been waiting to say this officially at this press conference and I know a lot of you have been waiting for me to say this: I just want to say two words in closing, Roll Tide!"