TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte proved he could bring in the donor money. Now, for the first time in his 28-month tenure, he has to bring in a top-tier coach.
Jim Christian's departure to take the head job at Ohio University, which will be announced during a news conference at 1 p.m. today, leaves the TCU men's basketball program without a leader seven months before its first season in the Big 12.
Del Conte did not return calls but in a released statement said a national search for a replacement would begin immediately.
"We appreciate Jim's contributions to TCU and wish him the best," Del Conte said in the release. "With our entrance into the Big 12, the momentum on the TCU campus and the great city of Fort Worth, we are very excited about the future of our men's basketball program."
Since coming to TCU from Rice in November 2009, Del Conte has overseen several coaching hires, including women's soccer and men's tennis. But the men's basketball coaching vacancy will be his first opportunity to show he is as adept at hiring as raising funds and navigating TCU's move from the Mountain West to the Big 12, which the school officially joins July 1.
Several sources in the basketball program said Christian, who was hired at TCU in March 2008, felt the administration failed to show a financial commitment to basketball, including upgrading the 51-year old Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, and adding amenities common on other Big 12 campuses.
Del Conte helped spearhead a $164 million renovation to the Frogs' football stadium. Other upgraded facilities under Del Conte include a new weight room, football locker rooms, equipment rooms, and training rooms.
The improvements to the basketball facilities, which Del Conte said last week are in the works, are likely to be pivotal in determining the kind of replacement TCU is able to hire.
Christian said last week that he expected TCU basketball to look completely different in less than five years after Del Conte helps raise donations for renovations. Christian's TCU salary was about $590,000, which would have been the lowest in the Big 12. A proven coach with name recognition is likely to demand a higher salary and a firm financial commitment to the program. TCU did not make players available for comment but when Christian was rumored to be a candidate for the Rhode Island job last month, guard Kyan Anderson said losing Christian would "be a blow."
Anderson said he and his teammates hoped to improve in the second half of the season after hearing rumors that Christian's job was on the line. TCU defeated two top 20 teams in February and had its first winning record since 2005. Del Conte denied Christian's job was in jeopardy last week. Christian's contract with TCU ran through 2015.
"We didn't want it to happen," Anderson said.
Christian was 56-73 in four seasons at TCU. He led the Horned Frogs to their first postseason berth since 2005 last month. TCU lost in the second round of the College Basketball Invitational. Christian replaces John Groce at Ohio, which reached the NCAA's Sweet 16. Groce was hired at Illinois last week.
Christian informed the team of the move at 2 p.m. Monday at a meeting in the TCU basketball offices. Several sources in the program said they did not expect any current players to leave TCU, or follow Christian to Ohio. The future of Christian's three assistant coaches and support staff is unknown.