TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte confirmed the firing in an email sent by assistant athletic director Mark Cohen Monday morning.
“It’s hard to find a better person than Trent,” Del Conte said, “and I have the highest level of respect for him. However, we believe change is needed in the leadership of our men’s basketball program.”
Johnson, a former head coach at Stanford and LSU, each of which made the NCAA tournament in his tenure there, had amassed a 49-74 record in Fort Worth. His contract, good for around $1.5 million per year, was scheduled to run through the 2017-18 season.
Johnson amassed a poor win/loss record during a transitional time for TCU basketball. One of the most notable changes for the program was a $72 million renovation to the Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena.
Johnson also brought in TCU’s highest-rated recruit in program history: Karviar Shepherd. The four-star center was ranked as the 2013 class’s seventh best prospect in Texas by ESPN.
Recruiting was perhaps where Johnson served TCU best. He continually punched above his program’s weight, bringing in the likes of Shepherd from the high school ranks. He was also active on the junior college circuit.
Kenrich Williams, Vladimir Brodziansky, and Malique Trent all came from junior colleges, and all produced well under Johnson.
The high-water mark for the program came in what was both Johnson’s first year in Fort Worth and TCU’s first season in the Big 12, when the Frogs knocked off No. 5 Kansas in a stunning upset.
However, TCU continually struggled to keep up in one of the nation’s premier basketball leagues.
Johnson won only eight games in the Big 12 in his four years, including a winless in-conference schedule in 2013-14. TCU managed to advance past the first round in the Big 12 Championship in the ’14-’15 and ’15-’16 seasons, but the Frogs never received a postseason invite.
“Trent inherited a very difficult situation, and we truly appreciated his efforts over the last four years,” Del Conte said. “We simply did not have the success we envisioned but believe the pieces are now in place for us to move forward.”
That “difficult situation” included having to play in a high school gymnasium for the entirety of the 2014-15 season and the first half of the current season, as the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum was being demolished to make way for the Schollmaier Arena.
This season’s team was expected to build on the success experienced in the non-conference slate from ’14-’15. TCU opened that season on a 13-0 run and was ranked in the Associated Press poll at No. 25.
Instead, the team slid throughout the ’15-’16 season. Guard Brandon Parrish said after the season finale against Oklahoma that the team’s “fight wasn’t there” at times.
On Saturday, after bowing out of the Big 12 Tournament to West Virginia the night before, Johnson posted a letter to TCU basketball fans on his since-deleted Twitter account.
Signed by many players and the coach himself, the letter promised that TCU would “stick together” and “stay positive,” and that the “caliber of play will be improved moving forward.”
It will be up to the next coach of TCU basketball to determine whether or not that pledge comes true.