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Avery Johnson loves being the coach at Alabama, but will he stay?

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A sullen Avery Johnson walked off the court inside Coleman Coliseum for what could be the last time following Alabama basketball’s 80-79 overtime loss to Norfolk State in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament on Wednesday night. The dejected head coach received a quick pat on the back from Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne on his way toward the locker room. Four days earlier, the two met for an hour discussing the future of Alabama basketball — a future that may or may not now include Johnson at the helm.

“I love being the coach here at Alabama. That’s my plan, Johnson said. “I made that crystal clear to Greg in our meeting. And hopefully they feel the same way. But I’m committed to it. I still have time left, obviously, on my contract.”

Johnson’s contract runs through 2023. If Alabama was to fire him tomorrow, the head coach would be owed a buyout of $8 million. If the university waits until April 15, that figure drops to $6 million.

Whether or not Johnson has coached his final game in Tuscaloosa is up to Byrne. Fortunately for the head coach, that decision won’t be made by the roughly 2,000 fans in attendance Wednesday, who watched Alabama throw away yet another game.

Alabama (18-16) concluded its season by losing five of its last six games. Had the Crimson Tide one maybe just one of those, it could be playing Thursday or Friday in its second straight NCAA Tournament. Instead, it will be watching at home with no more basketball remaining on its schedule.

Johnson, the 19th-highest paid coach in college basketball, has led Alabama to just one NCAA Tournament in his four seasons in charge of the team. The other three years have all resulted with first-round exits in the NIT.

“This year obviously we kind of flatlined a little bit,” Johnson said. “And we wanted to take a step forward. I had talked about that all in the offseason. A step forward would have meant making it to the tournament with another opportunity to advance. But things happen… you’ve got to come back and work. We’ve got a lot of work to do. So we don’t think it’s all a failure just because we didn’t make it to the tournament, but we have work to do.

“And I know more about this team. I know more about college after my fourth year. This is not my 14th year at Alabama, it’s just my fourth year. But we wanted to have better results, I am not hiding from that. I’m very disappointed with the loss tonight, and I’m disappointed we couldn’t take that step forward, but we’ll figure out how to do that. We have some ideas as a staff.”

Johnson left the court Wednesday night to a few unflattering shouts from a collection of fans still in attendance. He received even more criticism over social media where his team’s effort and intensity has been ridiculed for weeks.

“I know this is a microwave era where it’s always, ‘Blow the team up, blow the staff up,’ when you don’t get the results you want,” Johnson said. “But when you don’t get the results you want, you work hard. I feel we have the right people. We have a nice recruiting class coming in. But we just got to get better. Hopefully, we’ll have that opportunity.”

We will find out over the next few weeks whether or not Johnson will be afforded that opportunity. However, as of Wednesday night, both the head coach and his team face an uncertain future.

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Photo | USA Today