TCU fires Johnson, begins search for its next basketball coach

TCU coach Trent Johnson, show here in a game against West Virginia in the Big 12 conference tournament, was dismissied Monday as the school’s coach. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
TCU coach Trent Johnson, show here in a game against West Virginia in the Big 12 conference tournament, was dismissied Monday as the school’s coach. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner) AP

Trent Johnson, who was brought in to usher TCU into the Big 12 but won only eight conference games in four years, was fired Monday as men’s basketball coach, four days after the Horned Frogs’ season ended in Kansas City.

Athletic director Chris Del Conte said in a statement that Johnson is “a man of unbelievable integrity” but improvement is needed in the program, which began playing this season at renovated Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena.

The school said a search is underway to find a replacement for Johnson, who had two years left on a contract he signed upon arrival in Fort Worth. Johnson was paid $1.66 million in 2013, according to TCU’s most recent publicly available tax filing.

“It’s hard to find a better person than Trent, and I have the highest level of respect for him,” Del Conte said in his statement. “However, we believe change is needed in the leadership of our men’s basketball program. With our new facility and playing in the Big 12, the strongest basketball conference in the country, we’re positioned well to have a men’s basketball program that makes TCU and Fort Worth proud. Trent inherited a very difficult situation, and we truly appreciated his efforts over the last four years. We simply did not have the success we envisioned but believe the pieces are now in place for us to move forward.”

TCU’s season ended Thursday in a loss to West Virginia at the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, leaving Johnson 50-79 with the Horned Frogs, including 8-64 in the Big 12 and 2-4 in Big 12 tournament games.

Under Johnson, the Horned Frogs won only one Big 12 road game, at Texas Tech in 2015, going 1-35 away from home in the nation’s toughest RPI league.

It was hardly what TCU hoped to get from its hire of the veteran coach in April 2012. Johnson came to TCU with five NCAA tournament appearances combined in four seasons each as a head coach at Nevada, Stanford and LSU.

But at TCU, Johnson had only one winning season, an 18-15 record in 2015.

In remarks to reporters after TCU’s final home game, Johnson lamented the inability to capitalize on that season.

“I’m disappointed because we made so much progress last year and then we took some steps backward,” he said. “And you can point to any and everything you want — and those are excuses — I’m disappointed.”

Johnson also couldn’t capitalize on a renovated arena. TCU spent $80 million in an upgrade to the former Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, adding seating, widening the concourses and installing modern technology.

The Horned Frogs won their inaugural game in Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena but went 5-7, including a dispiriting 19-point loss to Kansas for a sellout crowd and a 24-point loss to eighth-place Kansas State.

The lack of buzz in the arena for those games overshadowed the team’s best wins, such as a Jan. 9 upset of Texas and a second-half rally to defeat Tennessee.

“Honestly, some games, our fight isn’t there,” guard Brandon Parrish said after the regular season finale against Oklahoma.

Injuries were a problem for Johnson all four seasons at TCU. Amric Fields missed much of Johnson’s first year and parts of the second and third. Devonta Abron was hurt before the second season and missed time in all three years.

This year, the Frogs played without Kenrich Williams, who spent the season recovering from knee surgery. Forward Chris Washburn missed the first 11 games with a broken finger. Guard Mike Williams missed the last four games of the regular season with a hand injury.

It wasn’t only injuries. Last season, Johnson dismissed Charles Hill Jr. for a violation of team rules. The previous year, Hill was academically ineligible during the conference schedule. This season, starting guard Malique Trent sat out three conference games in January for violating team rules.

“Ideal world, you’d like to have 12 guys out there that are completely healthy and ready to go,” Johnson said in a conference call with reporters before the Big 12 tournament. “But that’s not the way it is.”

The next coach will be TCU’s 22nd in men’s basketball. The coach before Johnson, Jim Christian, was 56-73 in four seasons when he left for a job at Ohio University. Before Christian, former Kansas assistant Neal Dougherty was 75-108 in six seasons after taking over for Billy Tubbs, who was 156-95 in eight seasons and posted TCU’s last NCAA Tournament appearance.

TCU’s winningest coach is Buster Brannon, who was 205-259 in 19 seasons ending in 1967.

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez

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