Jim Christian is gone.
So is Hank Thorns and J.R. Cadot. And so are the baby steps of progress made by TCU basketball last year.
Christian accepted the head coaching position at Ohio University Tuesday, leaving behind the Horned Frogs after leading them to an 18-15 record and a second round berth in the Collegiate Basketball Invitational.
But now, TCU is without a coach, without a leading scorer (Thorns) and without a leading rebounder (Cadot).
The loss of Thorns and Cadot was never underestimated, but Christian’s departure was a cold throw back into reality for a TCU basketball program on the cusp of success.
Christian left a soon-to-be Big 12 team for a member of the Mid-American Conference, the same league the New York native coached in at Kent State.
Granted, Ohio just finished 25th in the final USA Today Coaches poll and is expected to return all five starters from a team that reached the Sweet 16. But in theory, upward mobility isn’t going from the Big 12 to the MAC.
Also in theory, a Big 12 job should provide the slightest inkling that it’s slightly higher up on the food chain. The TCU job hasn’t done that.
And that’s not because of the administration (as some fans tend to blame) or because of Christian (as most fans tend to blame).
This one’s on the fans. Christian’s squads didn’t give TCU supporters much to rally behind, but beggars can’t be choosers. And even when the Frogs did have success – like this year’s CBI berth – fans still didn’t show up. Only 1,062 fans showed up for the team’s CBI opener against Milwaukee.
That lack of support has translated into a lack of top-notch facilities.
Renovations to Daniel-Meyer Coliseum would have to be 100 percent donor-funded. At this point, with the current level of support from fans and boosters, that isn’t feasible. Until it is, the DMC, built in 1961, will likely stay the same.
That won’t affect the current players too much, but it will prove to be detrimental to the recruiting game, making it nearly impossible for TCU coaches (whoever they might be) to lure Big 12-ready athletes away from conference mainstays such as Kansas, Texas and Baylor.
So what’s TCU athletics director Chris Del Conte to do?
Del Conte came to TCU in 2009 and since, his biggest hire has been the women’s head soccer coach, Eric Bell. Understandably, Del Conte’s latest task will be a bit more high-profile.
How does he handle it? Does he go after the big name? If so, how? It’s hard to lure a make-a-splash coach to a program with no water. Does he write the big paycheck? Does it even matter?
Christian was hired with the intention of re-invigorating a slumping program. On the court, the process was slow, but somewhat successful near the end.
Off the court? Nothing. Stands remained empty and support stayed low.
At this juncture, the TCU basketball problem won’t be solved by X’s and O’s, but by Jims and Bobs and Marys or any other dormant fans who have been far from interested in even attending games.
Find that coach, the one who’ll draw fans off their couches and into Daniel-Meyer, and you’ve found your guy.
If you can’t, then the rebuilding cycle starts all over again.