He saw his TCU team every day in practice.
He wasn't about to predict a Horned Frogs upset of No. 5 Kansas prior to Wednesday's game in Fort Worth, Texas. He knew better. There may not be a coach in the country with a more transparent view of his own team than Johnson, regardless of his previous stops at Nevada, Stanford or LSU.
He knew what he had and that was a team riddled with injuries, low on talent and beaten down with eight straight Big 12 losses, all but one by double figures. Stats showed TCU was ranked in the bottom third in Division I in scoring, assists, field-goal percentage and rebounds.
"They haven't shown signs or talked about quitting," Johnson said by phone from Fort Worth late Wednesday night. "I told them that the easy thing for players to do is to blame somebody, cry to their mom and dad. We live in an environment of the quick fix. But look at our statistics coming into the game. We were god-awful. They had the opportunity to quit."
Kansas was the team that looked like it had checked out instead, going 1-of-17 from the field early in the game and trailing 22-13 at the half, the Jayhawks' lowest point total since 1988-89.
"The only thing that we talked about is that we're going to have to keep this thing simple," Johnson said. "When they make runs, we can't do too much. But they didn't shoot the ball well and it happens. It was the perfect storm for us."
And it ended up being the most legitimate storm ever in the Big 12.
TCU held on for a stunning 62-55 victory for its first win ever in the Big 12 after nearly going to the Big East and a year ago barely being able to stay above water at times in the Mountain West. Jim Christian opted to go to Ohio, avoiding being fired. Then Johnson got out of LSU in what appeared to be an odd move.
Throughout his career, Johnson has always been a stoic sort. He is extremely serious but intense, as was the case when he had a bit of a meltdown in an NCAA tournament ejection while coaching at Stanford that ultimately left a television damaged in a locker room. But he has always been a stand-up coach, who is averse to any off-court controversy and rarely had teams with issues while he was coaching.
Johnson has never been one to be too high or too low. You could see it in his demeanor after the win as students stormed the court. He high-fived students passing by him but never smiled, pumped his fist or jumped up and down.
"You've been around me long enough to know, this was one game," Johnson said. "We've got so much further to go. I told the kids to enjoy it, but it's one game. We'll take [Thursday] off go to class and be back Friday for West Virginia, who handled us [by 21 in Morgantown]."
Johnson didn't even want to bite on what this win may have done for his credibility on campus or in the Big 12. Hogwash.
"Have we arrived? We're not close to arriving," Johnson said. "There was a coaching change, the talent level, we lost two starters to ACL injuries. We have to stay the course. I don't pay attention to that. We lost our first eight. We could lose our next nine if we're not playing with maximum amount of energy."
He's right. TCU has hardly turned the corner. This was about a Kansas team that punted on this game, was completely out of sync from the opening tip and looked like it still hadn't shaken off the loss to Oklahoma State. TCU capitalized but hardly dominated to the point that the Horned Frogs will be feared in the Big 12. But they should at least be respected now.
"I'm not a glass half-full guy," Johnson said. "We played the game right [Wednesday night]."
TCU has made a commitment to Johnson. He said the promise is for facility upgrades. I don't doubt it with the passion for football and the desire to be winners in the Big 12, TCU won't slack. Whether Johnson wants to admit it or not, this win helps with perception among the Horned Frogs' faithful that he can redirect a seemingly irrelevant program that hadn't been worthy of a national look since Billy Tubbs was running wild behind Lee Nailon and an entertaining team in the 1990s.
Johnson had nothing but positive comments about Kansas and Bill Self. He has known Self for quite some time.
"I've got too much respect for Bill, Bill's damn good," Johnson said. "Nobody wants to play that group. They'll be fine."
Johnson wasn't going to spend too much time dwelling on this win. He had to get to sleep for an 8 a.m. recruiting trip Thursday.
But before he hung up he finally admitted the magnitude of the win, even if his voice never changed from an even tone.
"Obviously, this is a big upset," Johnson said. "This is for me personally, this is one of the best wins I've been around in."
I couldn't see, but I have to believe there was at least a smile in there somewhere. And if not he deserved to be smiling.
The Big 12 men's basketball coaches wrapped up their meetings Tuesday in Phoenix with its new members -- West Virginia and TCU -- replacing the departed Missouri and Texas A&M.
And the consensus was that the league is actually as strong as it's ever been.
"I never questioned the stability," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "The anchors were always the ones that wanted to keep it together -- Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. I know our AD [DeLoss Dodds] never wavered on keeping the league together. We're very comfortable with where it is right now."
The Big 12 made an easy switch in adding West Virginia and TCU. The league will continue as a 10-team conference for the foreseeable future with a new television agreement that will ensure even more status quo.
Kansas is coming off an appearance in the national title game. Baylor made an Elite Eight trip for the second time in three years. And four others made the NCAA tournament, meaning 60 percent of the league went dancing. The odds are high that the Big 12 can duplicate that percentage going forward.
And keeping the conference at 10 teams also ensures that the round-robin schedule will continue. The Big 12 is now the only conference among the power six that plays a true round-robin.
"It's the best basketball league in the country," Barnes said. "Divisional play wasn't fair. [With the round-robin] you play everybody twice and the rivalries continue, so we can build our league."
Even though his team won the conference yet again last season, Kansas coach Bill Self said the 18-game, round-robin schedule was "tiring."
"I thought it was long. My opinion is that the perfect number of league games is 16," he said. "But it was still great and it was better from a fan perspective to play everybody twice. But it's a long season."
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg called the league slate a "grind" but added that crowning a true champion was a "great format, and it really prepared you for the postseason."
New Kansas State coach Bruce Weber didn't have a true round-robin with Illinois in the Big Ten. But he did when he was at Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley.
"As far as getting in the NCAA tournament, it helps your RPI and gets you more quality games," Weber said.
Trent Johnson, who came over from LSU to TCU, said he enjoyed the Pac-10's round-robin schedule while head coach at Stanford and that it "was the right way to determine a true champion."
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins agreed.
"It just makes it hard if you don't play everybody twice," Huggins said. "It's more fair to play everybody home-and-home. I think we went to Syracuse 12 years in a row. Well, maybe it was three, maybe four."
Weber, Johnson and Huggins all said they were impressed by the growing sense of stability in the Big 12.
As for going to Morgantown, a place that is 870 miles away from its nearest Big 12 neighbor (Iowa State)? Well, this is an era in which every team travels by charter, so by and large the coaches contacted by ESPN.com didn't seem all that concerned. Hoiberg said the trip to WVU will be looked at like the road trip to Colorado in the Big 12 before the Buffaloes left.
As for the Mountaineers' schedule, Huggins said he wouldn't be against playing several road games -- a Texas road trip for example -- in early January, when school isn't in session.
The Big 12 said that's unlikely, however.
"It's not my call," Huggins said. "I'll do what they want."
Missouri should be able to find its way toward the top five in the SEC, while Texas A&M will have to slog through a muddled middle of the conference.
The absence of a Missouri-Kansas and Texas-Texas A&M rivalry will hurt the Big 12. No one will debate that fact since those four games are always well-attended and hotly contested, and usually mean something in the standings.
And while Mizzou and A&M plan to continue the rivalry, Kansas and Texas have said no.
So, ultimately nobody in the Big 12 appears to be whining over the departures. The 10-team Big 12 can go forward without a hitch in its new round-robin schedule and its equitable conference tournament.
West Virginia's location in Morgantown is just another college campus that isn't easily accessible by a major airport, so that's nothing new for the Big 12. Try getting to other league schools in Columbia, Ames, Lubbock, Stillwater or Manhattan. TCU, in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, is actually easier to get to by air or car than Texas A&M is in College Station.
TCU has plenty to do to be highly competitive in the Big 12. But West Virginia will step in immediately and provide a highly competitive team that will be a tough out in Morgantown and on the road.
The Mountaineers have a top transfer sitting out this season, former La Salle big man Aaric Murray, and ex-Dayton guard Juwan Staten isn't too shabby, either.
No one seems to care about the Mountaineers' roster as long as Bob Huggins is the coach. He was universally applauded by his new Big 12 colleagues Tuesday.
"He's one of the most respected coaches in the country," Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg said. "They instantly will make our league tougher. We're getting an outstanding program, one with great tradition. West Virginia has been an NCAA tournament team in six of the last seven years."
Kansas coach Bill Self said that West Virginia adds tremendous value, and with TCU the Big 12 schools can recruit in the Metroplex area even more.
"It all adds stability to an already great league," said Self.
Kansas State's Frank Martin said the addition of West Virginia ensures that the Big 12 will be even stronger going forward.
"We're adding a Final Four team, and a Hall of Fame coach," Martin said.
Martin's praise is understandable. He's one of Huggins' closest friends, having worked for him at Cincinnati and heading to Kansas State with him for one season before Huggins went to his alma mater at West Virginia. Martin then replaced him at Kansas State.
"I have tremendous respect for that league," Huggins said Tuesday. "We're going from one great league to another."
Huggins said the travel won't be an issue for West Virginia.
"We've got a lot further to go than everybody else, but we'll just charter in and out," Huggins said. "I tell you what impressed me [in the Big 12] is the student turnout is terrific. When the students are in there, there is such enthusiasm."
Huggins is right. The Big East's college campus arenas don't come close to the Big 12's arenas. The Big 12 blows the Big East away, save a few places like Louisville and Pitt.
Huggins said the Mountaineers will be in the mix immediately in the Big 12 with the transfer additions, even with the departure of senior Kevin Jones.
West Virginia is still scheduled to play Kansas State in a return game, but Huggins said he'll let Martin out of the game unless he wants to come to the state twice in the same season.
West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said on a conference call Tuesday that the Backyard Brawl in football between Pitt and West Virginia won't be played in 2012. If that's the case, then don't expect it to be played in men's basketball as the Mountaineers will have an 18-game Big 12 schedule and will need to adjust their nonconference slate. Pitt will still play an 18-game Big East schedule in 2012-13. The Big East was noncommittal about the changes to the Big East schedule with a 15-team league for one regular season and conference tournament. Pitt and Syracuse could still depart for the ACC a year earlier than projected, but not for 2012-13.
The ACC got better with those additions. Those moves weren't done for survival, though. The Big 12 had to replace Mizzou for 2012-13 or face a nine-team league that would have been down a notch. West Virginia allows the Big 12 to avoid a major hiccup. The league should still have one of the most competitive conferences with multiple bids in 2013, too.
According to a Mountain West official, league bylaws demand that a member play in all the major sports, meaning that TCU couldn't ship its football program to an automatic-qualifying BCS conference like the Big East and still keep its men's and women's basketball programs in the MWC.
According to a source, there has been preliminary discussions with the WAC to take TCU in everything but football, much like the WAC was willing to do with BYU. TCU is looking at options if it can't or doesn't want to go all sports in the Big East.
A Sun Belt official said Wednesday that there had been no contact about housing TCU's other sports outside of football. From a purely hoops standpoint, it wouldn't be great news for the Horned Frogs to go down a level in basketball to a one-bid conference, putting its basketball program on equal footing with nearby North Texas.
The Big East hasn't had official discussions with its membership yet about the format of a 17-team or 18-team basketball league, but there have been some internal discussions within the league office, according to sources.
The easy thing for the Big East to do is add TCU to give it a nationally recognized football program and then hope that current member Villanova bumps its football program up from FCS to FBS so that basketball doesn't have to be disrupted. Adding schools like Army or Navy for football-only would work since those schools put their other sports in the Patriot League. Temple might also work since football plays in the MAC, while all the others compete in the Atlantic 10.
Adding TCU and a candidate like Central Florida would move the basketball league to 18 teams, unless the Knights wanted to downgrade their men's and women's basketball programs at a time when they've poured millions into a new basketball facility. Like the Mountain West, Conference USA has a bylaw stating that no member can play sports in another conference. So in that scenario, UCF's other teams might compete in a league like the Sun Belt or Atlantic Sun or Big South.
As for the Big East, the league office is looking at the possibility of what a 17-team basketball league would look like in two years, assuming any invitation extended to TCU would be accepted.
The Big East has an 18-game regular-season schedule that calls for three repeat games under television contracts with ESPN and CBS through 2012-13. The contract is based on a 16-team membership. CBS and ESPN each get a choice of one of those repeat games. If the league were to go to 17 members, the 18-game schedule would remain the same (although the invitations could be put off for two seasons since a team like TCU couldn't join for 2011-12 anyway because of the late notice).
According to a source, in a 17-team league, each program would play every other team (16 games) and then play two repeat games (instead of three). That means a lower-level repeat game for a favorite like Pittsburgh would go away. CBS and ESPN requested Pitt and Villanova play twice and each received a game. The Big East then kept the rivalry of Pitt-West Virginia for another repeat game. Pitt's third repeat game is against South Florida. Under a 17-team, 18-game schedule, this game would go away.
If the Big East had to add two more all-sport members to get to 18, then it gets more complicated in basketball. The league would likely want to keep every team playing each other once for 17 games. That would leave only one repeat game, likely the rivalry game. If that occurs, the Big East would likely have to restructure its television contract with CBS and ESPN since both networks wouldn't get a chance to televise the same matchups during a season.
The Big East tournament would become another matter. According to a source, the conference couldn't add another day in Madison Square Garden to begin the tournament on Monday of championship week. The current tournament format begins on Tuesday. If the membership was determined to include every Big East team, then they would have to consider playing on a campus site for the first round, which would be challenging because a number of schools don't own the buildings (Seton Hall, Providence, etc.) and would have a hard time getting set dates.
The other option is to go back to inviting only 12 teams to New York, which may not be a popular topic among a number of schools, according to a source.
The league office expects a decision on membership within the academic year, but Villanova may have the first move since the Wildcats' decision to upgrade their football program would dictate whether the Big East needs to grab one or two more football members to get to 10.
According to a source, the Big East membership hasn't discussed a split of the football/basketball schools into two conferences. Of course, there are a number of issues with that split -- ownership of the conference funds, who owns the name of the league and a contract with MSG -- that would need to be worked out before anything of that magnitude could occur.