As the men’s basketball team hung with BYU two weeks ago, it was evident: TCU could care. The players could win. Fans would watch.
And last week, basking in the afterglow of a 64-58 loss to the then-No. 8 Cougars, Athletics Director Chris Del Conte announced men’s coach Jim Christian will return next season for his fourth year in purple.
But the fact remains that 40 good minutes are not enough for one more year. The Frogs’ season finale in the Mountain West Conference Championship should have been Christian’s last as TCU coach. Had he not received an unlikely extension after his first season in Fort Worth, it’s unclear if he still would have been.
Christian is a good coach and a great person. He came to TCU with a sterling record from Kent State with a Mid-American Conference record .704 winning percentage where he had six 20-win seasons. He’s unfailingly nice and charming in a Brooklyn, fast-talking kind of way.
And he cares. Of course, he’s passionate on the sidelines. Christian looks devastated after close losses and elated when his team gets a win. But beyond that, he’s quick to give praise to his players when it is due and doesn’t call out individuals when he wants results from the team.
But all that being said, this relationship is in its second year of silent dinners. You know a divorce is imminent, but on the surface, everything is fine. It would be in the best interest of both parties in the long term to go their separate ways, but there are strings attached.
In 2008, Christian was signed to a five-year contract. His first season, the Frogs went 14-17 in a season built around Kevin Langford’s standout senior year. After that season, there was reason for hope 8212; and four years left on his contract. But then-Athletics Director Danny Morrison gave Christian another two-year extension based on that one year of play.
If TCU were to buy out the remainder of Christian’s contract today, they’d have to buy out four years instead of the two they would be left with in his original deal. While the university doesn’t release salary figures, it would likely be a rather large check, plus a signing bonus to pay a new coach.
The athletics department can say what it will about this team turning the corner, but the fact is the program is returning six players from an 11-win team. While all six can certainly be contributors, none have shown the ability Langford showed to be a game-changing player. As currently built, this team is bound for another season of fewer than 15 wins.
So what if they can get a game-changing freshman?
It would be new for the Christian era. He has swung for the fences, adding guys with tons of potential who have been slow to put it together 8212; see Garlon Green, who could be very good next year but had an up and down freshman campaign. If the program expects a multi-win swing next year, it will have to recruit guys who can play immediately and play well without character issues.
The Frogs need someone with the obedience of a golden retriever and the basketball abilities of Air Bud. That has not been the case thus far, and this team can’t afford any more misses before heading to the Big East.
Christian had to kick two of his own recruits off the team this season, one of them the team’s leading scorer. While his resolve is admirable in sacrificing potential 8212; and needed 8212; wins for the good of the program and team atmosphere, he also made the choice to add those players to the team in the first place.
Finally, the right guy was available.
Billy Gillispie made his name taking UTEP and Texas A&M to the postseason in his first year following poor seasons. He is an excellent recruiter, and has done it in Texas. After a mildly successful two-year stint at Kentucky, he was fired. He was hired at Texas Tech about the same time Del Conte was announcing Christian would stay.
Say Gillispie had been offered the chance to live in Fort Worth instead of Lubbock, play in the Big East instead of the Big 12, recruit in Dallas/Fort Worth instead of West Texas and made similar money to do so. Does he turn it down?
Firing someone is a terrible thing to have to do, especially to a good guy and good coach like Jim Christian. Calling for anyone’s job shouldn’t be taken lightly, particularly when no one outside the athletics department can see the financial realities of it.
However, from a logical perspective, it is time to part ways.
The program has not improved on the court the way anyone involved wanted and doesn’t figure to next season. If both part ways in a year, another season in neutral won’t make Christian any more marketable or the team any more prepared for the Big East.
Josh Davis is a senior broadcast journalism major from Dallas.
Check out sports editor Ryne Sulier’s take on Christian’s future as head coach in Tuesday’s paper.