Revisiting the Recruitment of CJ Johnson


Oct 27, 2012; Little Rock, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorback offensive tackle Brey Cook (74) blocks as quarterback Tyler Wilson (8) breaks a tackle by Ole Miss Rebels defensive end C.J. Johnson (10) as defensive back Anthony Standifer (23) looks on during the second half at War Memorial Stadium. Ole Miss defeated Arkansas 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next two days, I am going to revisit the recruitment of two of the highest rated players that ever committed to Mississippi State. We’ll look at one that got away and one who showed up. We start with the one that got away: CJ Johnson

When you have a recruit that is solidly on board since their junior year, and they have grown up being a fan of that school his entire life, you expect that player to stay committed all the way through National Signing Day.

That didn’t happen with CJ Johnson.

I don’t want this to be a bash Johnson article. Only he knows completely why he decided to switch his school from Mississippi State to Ole Miss. He did give some insight after National Signing Day, and that is where I am going to draw most of this post from.

When you think about the recruitment of Johnson, you have to go all the way back to the 2010 season. Mississippi State was riding the wave of momentum they created from a 9-4 season that ended with a dominant performance over Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Despite the momentum, Mississippi State appeared to be struggling some with recruiting. Little did we know just how rough it was going to get.

Johnson was recruited and committed in his junior year. He was touted as being solidly on board for his entire junior season and for most of the start of his senior year. Then there were whispers towards the end of the 2010 season, right around the Mississippi-Alabama All Star Game. This was also the time that we were losing a few significant members to our coaching staff.

When you have surprising success, many teams will start to look towards your coaching staff to fill vacancies. Dan Mullen was reportedly one of the top candidates at the University of Miami. He ultimately was either never offered the job or pulled his name from consideration. Two other coaches were targets, and they did leave. The receivers coach, and one of our best recruiters, Mark Hudspeth was named the head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette and has had a a great amount of success while there. The other coach was our defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Diaz was credited with a large part of our turn around because the defense was so much better in 2010 than it was in 2009.  Mack Brown quickly picked him up after Will Muschamp left the program to go be the head coach at Florida. Neither would experience the success they had at their previous jobs.

One of the issues with this was Diaz was one of the key recruiters for Johnson. After Diaz left for Texas, Johnson told reporters that he wasn’t feeling with his decision to go to Mississippi State as he once did. The reviled and loathed coach by Mississippi State fans of South Panola Lance Pogue was one of the coaches for the Mississippi squad. He recognized that Johnson did not appear to be happy about something and inquired as to what was the cause. When Johnson expressed his dissatisfaction, Pogue informed him that he had the number for Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt if Johnson wanted to talk to him. Johnson told Pogue to call him up.

It wouldn’t be long after that when Johnson would decommit from Mississippi State. It would be shortly after he decommitted that he would commit to Ole Miss. It led to lots of State fans speculating to dirty recruiting tactics by the Ole Miss coaching staff and boosters. It led Ole Miss fans to brag about a great recruiting class and saying State fans were whining about sour grapes.

Johnson talked about his decommitment afterwards. Supposedly, another reason why Johnson decided to not sign with State was State fans were giving Johnson a hard time about rumors that his Mom was given a job cleaning someone’s house for $100,000. This made State fans even more irate that a select group of fans could influence a recruit so much. It serves as another reminder why people should follow the advice that Cristilmethod of FWtCT gave on Monday.

After signing day, things were relatively quiet. Then it started to blow up again on June 1, the day that CJ Johnson arrived on the campus of Ole Miss. On this day, Johnson tweeted out a picture of a truck he just got. He also carried on a conversation in those tweets that he apparently had already received a Range Rover that he took back because it had too many miles. This caused a huge outrage among State fans. Johnson later said that it was a joke, but it was a bad one if it was.

It’s not completely fair to call Johnson’s career at Ole Miss a disappointment, as many State fans have. He has struggled with injuries both his freshman and junior seasons. He had a pretty productive 2012 season which helped lead to a surprising return to a bowl game for the Rebels. He only played in four games this year for the Rebels, once again, due to injury. If he can remain healthy, we might get to see what Johnson is fully capable of next year.

To say the least, Johnson is a lightning rod for conversation when it comes to State fans. His own coach Chris Kiffin, and strangely, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Canton, didn’t help make him any less of a lightning rod. Kiffin, as well chronicled by The Croom Diaries, sent out a really dumb tweet about never losing to Mississippi State again back in December.

After the really dumb tweet, instead of deleting it immediately like he should have, he began to get into a back and forth with State fans through Twitter. At one point, he seemed to indicate that the only reason that they lost was because Johnson wasn’t playing during that game. I’m not really sure why Kiffin brought his own defensive lineman into this, but he did. The only thing I can think of is the Kiffins’ unusual desire to get attention.

Earlier in the year, the preacher of First Baptist Church Canton made this meme that he sent to Kiffin. After Tyler Russell had gotten hurt, he used a picture of Tyler on the ground holding his head in pain to say that Tyler was scared because of Johnson. These things haven’t helped quell the hatred for Johnson amongst State fans.

The bright side of how the recruitment of CJ Johnson went is the fact that the Bulldogs staff learned how to keep their big name recruits on board after this debacle. We’ll take a look at how they kept Chris Jones tomorrow.