Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Increasingly Declining Morale of Jim Christian...

JC looked that happy in Fort Worth once, too.

Now that the Notorious J.I.M. is officially out the door, taking his presumed talents to eastern Ohio, it's as good of a time as any to reflect on his legacy while at TCU.  And that legacy is...

Exactly one more "post season" victory than you have led an NCAA team of any kind to.

I suppose that's kind of harsh and over-simplifying things for the sake of being crass, but I'm in no mood for sugarcoating today.  Jim Christian wasn't the best coach for TCU.  He was an outsider. He was harsh.  He couldn't inspire his players to compete hard for him until his job was on the line.  But, perhaps worst of all, he had high expectations that TCU could be competitive in basketball and that was ultimately his downfall.

I never knew Christian.  Never spoke to him, never shook his hand; in fact, outside of being inside the DMC for a game, the only time I've personally been around the man was at Dallas Coaches' dinners these past few years, including his very first one.  Let's see how being head coach of the Horned Frogs has changed his perspective on coaching NCAA Basketball.

First of all, let me direct you to this post referencing a TCU Magazine interview with Christian in the summer before his first season.  A few choice highlights:

  • He's, like, extremely excited to be at TCU... this guy has put in his dues at a school with far less money and support and considers TCU to be a top notch opportunity for him. He even referred to our facilities, which , aside from the new practice facility, are decrepit, as "Disneyland."
  • Assuming he doesn't succumb to the ugliness that is TCU basketball support, I think he's going to take this team places<------FORESHADOWING!!!
  • "I’m trying to use Coach Patterson and his staff as best I can to learn. They are successful here. They have a model that works, and I am trying to see it. "
That article came about roughly a month before the TCU Coaches' Dinner that year, about which I wrote the following:
  • From Long Island and definitely talks the part. Guy seems like a complete winner. No bullshitting, no "well, give me a few years"... he's here to win and he's here to win now. Very much urged everyone to come to the home opener against Nebraska and I'd have to agree with him. We already have 7 new players and any new blood that doesn't have the [redacted] stank on it is fine by me. Has a ton of respect for TCU and all that it stands for and especially for all of the coaching staffs. Went so far as to say TCU has the best athletic minds of any school that he's ever been around, and judging from the coaches there, he's probably right.
WHOA! Slow down, boy!  Not exactly the things you'd expect to read about the man that ultimately had fewer post-season wins than his predecessor and jumped ship to go live nearer to West Virginia than his own state capital.  If a man from Long Island can't find his place in a large metropolitan area, have fun in coal-n-moonshine country.

Ultimately Christian's first TCU team would finish 14-17 and lose in the opening round of the MWC Tournament, as they were apt to do.  This was treading water alongside the 14-17 team that had [redacted] relieved of his duties the previous year, but as Neil didn't exactly leave the cupboards stocked - JC's first year had him sending Kevin Langford to battle alongside real American Heroes Zvonko Buljan and Edvinas Ruzgas, not to mention Jason Ebie and Keion Mitchem, among others - holding serve was actually seen as a major step up at the time.  And come Coaches' Dinner Year Two, the optimism was in place, but he wasn't without his reservations:
  • Anyway, he didn't talk a whole lot about last season, and he wasn't as fire and brimstone as he was last year, but he sounds very optimistic about the team and made the comment that, "last year there was one guy who was talking about winning a championship, and unfortunately I couldn't play, but this year we have 11 guys all talking about winning a championship," which, while it may not be true, at least shows that he has confidence in his team
  • He also mentioned that he's trying to drum up home/home series with Tetch, Baylor and/or aggy, but is having problems getting them to commit. He didn't say they were scared, but he did hint pretty strongly at it.
  • ... but it sounds like he has the team heading in the right direction and we should have some pretty exciting matchups in the years to come.
Natch, Christian's second team actually under-performed the first, finishing the year 13-19 and once again crashing out of the MWC tourney in the first round.  Check out this bleak portrait a certain SWW painted before the Conference tourney.  Among the highlights:
  • Forget what I said about trying to put a positive spin on this – this game will be over in the first half, just like the last two have been...
    There’s just something surrounding the TCU basketball program that won’t allow us to break through...
    The Frogs are just a strange team to watch – the best comparison I can make are the New Jersey Nets this season. Alright, perhaps that’s a harsh assessment; after all, the Nets are fighting to become the worst team in NBA history ...
    So what should we really expect tonight out of TCU? I think this team has pretty much thrown in the towel on the season. We’ve beaten one team with a winning record all year (Colorado State). We lost to Northern Colorado. We needed three overtimes to put away Texas State. We haven’t put together a win streak since January 6th ...
    a win tonight would inch us closer to the season being an “ abysmal failure” rather than the current “epic failure,” but if I were a betting man and you gave me TCU and 15 points, I’d put my current mortgage on BYU then take out a second lien on my house and double down...

Yikes!  On the positive side, the Frogs only lost that game against BYU by 10 - following a 30 point basting to end the regular season by the same squad AT DMC - but clearly something was missing.  We hoped that thing was Hank Thorns, who would be eligible to play at the beginning of the Christian's third year at the helm. The fact that noted hothead Buljan had exhausted his eligibility didn't hurt things, either. Unfortunately I recall having to miss that year's Coaches Dinner and can't find a proper recap, but here are a few early-season snippets.  Keep in mind, we were only 2-0 at the time, but hope was clearly on the horizon:
  •  For the first time in recent memory, the TCU Horned Frogs actually LOOK like a basketball team... And, shockingly enough, they’re FUN to watch...  In the waning years of the [redacted] era, the most vivid memories I have are of Neil, Jr turning the ball over, Keion Mitchem missing threes, and Kevin Langford looking at his teammates like, “I left the Pac 10 for this shit?” ..Last night it only took me about three possessions to see that that has greatly changed this year... Why should you have been excited about a player who couldn’t cut it at an also-ran ACC school? Well, if you’d watched Ronnie Moss play out of position for two years, you’d know the answer, but his value could not have been more clear last night – he’s the best PG we’ve had since the NCAA teams of the 1990s, and it’s not even close... This may sound kind of silly to say and perhaps a bit obvious, but his court vision is going to be the difference between us challenging for a conference title and having a slap fight with Wyoming at the bottom of the standings. He’s had double digit assists in both of our games this year and his impact on Ronnie Moss cannot be understated. .. Of course, there are other guys on this team, and perhaps none are more exciting than Garlon Green,.. Also to keep an eye on, JUCO Transfer Sammy Yeager. Yeager is one of those guys I remember getting really excited about after watching his highlight tape when the team was introducing the new recruits, and he did not disappoint last night... So at the risk of telling you to book your Final Four tickets and send the team a box of scissors for net cutting duty, I’m just going to shut it down and say that this year really is going to be the first step we’ve taken in the right direction in a LONG time.... Every year I say that I’m going to stop being lazy and head across the Metroplex to catch more than just a handful of games, and while it’s probably all big talk again this year – I’m old beyond my years and like my post-work relaxation, after all – I’m at least 5% more certain that I’ll do so this year and if not, at least I’m one of the four people in America who knows what channel the mtn. is on... I realize it’s going to take more than two convincing wins to bring the fans back to Daniel Meyer, but this is definitely a boat you don’t want to miss if at all possible. ..  Let’s make the DMC known for something other than poorly located restrooms and hosting a Grateful Dead concert forty years ago.
WOW!!  Seriously?  I wrote that?  And the commenters even agreed with me! For a while, the team backed me up as TCU would enter Conference play at 9-6 and, after losing a couple of tough ones to Conference leaders UNLV and SDSU to open things up, kicked the balls off of Wyoming 78-60. We probably weren't going to challenge for the top 3, but I think there was hope we could lead that second tier of teams.

 Need we rehash how that season ultimately went down? Sammy Yeager?  BOOTED.  Ronnie Moss?  BOOTED.  Garlon Green?  MEDIOCRE.  Wyoming?  BEAT US IN THE SLAPFIGHT.  Final Conference record?  1-15.   Number of games SWW attended: 0.  And,  of course, the DMC is still only known for poorly located restrooms and a Grateful Dead concert from 40 years ago.  The shit that Kevin Langford left the Pac 10 for was far more positive.  Seriously, look at this thing. The Frogs DID finally get a Conference tourney win, and actually took BYU down to the wire in round 2, but it'd be PRETTY hard to wash off the stank of that 11-22 season.  But, after a third consecutive season where his record declined, clearly Christian's luster had worn off.  Considering Christian skipped that year's Coaches' Dinner for a "recruiting trip" it's pretty clear he knew it too.  

Of course, things did improve in the just completed year 4 with TCU making their first post-season trip in nearly a decade, but we know where we currently stand, and it's just as bad off as we were when JC stepped foot on campus.  But the real story here is how Christian went from the guy who wanted to follow in GP's footsteps, to the guy who is now uprooting his life to take a lower level job for no pay increase.  For a refresher, take look at the past few weeks:  Jim Christian misses TCU's game in Corvallis to attend to a "family issue.  The news starts reporting that Jim Christian is a leading candidate to return to his alma mater Rhode Island as head man.  Rhode Island ultimately passes Christian over.  Christian "reaffirms his commitment" to TCU in THIS article from the S-T.  Some quotes:
  • "I think we made some huge strides and accomplished some things that haven't been accomplished here in a while, so there's a lot to build on,"
  •  "We showed when we played the way we were capable of playing, that we could play with anybody in the country."
  •  There's a lot of things the guys can build on moving forward. I think they realize how close they were to being a team contending for an NCAA tournament position. That's really what it's about."
  • "We made unbelievable strides in that regard," he said. "I think that was the difference that enabled us to make this big of a leap forward. We have to continue to turn over every rock to keep moving this program in the direction we want."

    Read more here:

    Read more here:

    Read more here:

    Read more here:
In that article - dated March 20 - Christian sounds like a Coach headed in the right direction and one that felt comfortable about things going forward.  He had a highly thought of PG in Kyan Anderson, and would be returning all but three players from his best team at TCU thus far.  We may never know what happened in the time that lapsed between March 20 and March 26th, but judging by THIS article from the S-T, apparently he had a change of heart about TCU's commitment to basketball..  To wit:
  • "There's not one person in our administration that feels we are ready from a facilities or resources standpoint," Christian said. "There's not one person who doesn't understand how imperative it is that those things be upgraded for us to compete."
  • "We can't talk about what's not there," Christian said, alluding to recruits. "We have an easy blueprint with the other sports. It has to be shown to everybody who comes in contact with this program that the same commitment is there for our basketball program."
And then, the big one:
  • "We can't keep doing business the way we've done business and expect to compete in the Big 12, because that's not the way they do business," Christian said. "You have to be on a level playing field in order to compete in major college athletics. Administrations win championships. They have to want it. You look at every top program in the country and none of them are under resourced, or under budgeted. There's a comprehensive plan for what they need to do to compete at the highest level. And I think TCU is doing that. I think 3-5 years from now it's going to be a totally different place."
  • Read more here:

  • Read more here:

    Read more here:

Yikes! what happened to Disneyland, coach?  That last sentence looks pretty much like a tacked on, CYA move, no?  The bottom line is, TCU has never shown a genuine commitment to basketball and I'm not sure when they will start.  Christian was only going to be as committed to TCU as TCU was to him.  The fact that they let him walk so easily makes it pretty clear that not only did he make the correct move for himself, but that TCU doesn't have the slightest clue what they are doing.  Not in the sense that they let some brilliant basketball mind get away, but that they couldn't even convince a mediocre coach to not go to the MAC because this job absolutely ate Christian alive.  He saw the writing on the wall for when this team joins the Big 12, and he didn't want to be part of the bloodbath.  With TCU only offering the vaguest of lip service-y support going forward, who could blame him?

Check in for part two of this excessively long article looking at what TCU fans can realistically expect going forward at TWO this afternoon.

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