TCU has joined a growing group of college programs seeking a new men’s basketball coach after dismissing Trent Johnson on Monday after four seasons. Johnson finished with a 50-79 record in Fort Worth, including a 12-21 mark this season.
Athletic director Chris Del Conte said in a statement Monday that Johnson is “a man of unbelievable integrity” but improvement is needed in the program, which began playing this season at the newly-renovated $80 million Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena.
“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.”
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 Neil 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 in 1998.
Johnson had two years remaining on a contract he signed upon his arrival in Fort Worth. He was paid $1.66 million in 2013, according to TCU’s most recent publicly available tax filing.
TCU’s season ended Thursday with 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.
A list potential candidates could include:
Rodney Terry, Fresno State coach
Terry, 47, earned the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth in his five-year stint this season by winning the Mountain West conference tournament. The Bulldogs (25-9), seeded No. 14 in the Midwest Region, open NCAA play against Utah. Terry, a native of Angleton, played in college at St. Edward’s (1987-1991) and has been an assistant at two different Big 12 schools: Baylor (1996-98) and Texas (2002-11). During his nine seasons on staff at Texas, the Longhorns signed 10 McDonald’s All-Americans — including Kevin Durant (2006) — and the team won 232 games under coach Rick Barnes. Terry’s career mark at Fresno State is 85-83.
Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin coach
Underwood, 52, has won three Southland Conference titles and made three NCAA Tournament appearances in three seasons as coach of the Lumberjacks. He will take a career mark of 88-13 into the opening round of the 2016 tournament, and his SFA teams have posted a 53-1 mark in conference play. A native of McPherson, Kan., Underwood has experience playing and coaching in the Big 12. He played at Kansas State (1984-86) and also served as a Wildcats assistant from 2006-12.
Mike Dunleavy, former NBA coach
The Fort Worth resident spent two decades as an NBA coach (1990-2010) for four different franchises but has not coached since leaving the Los Angeles Clippers in 2010. Dunleavy, 61, has no coaching experience at the college level but is well known in basketball circles. He was a professional player from 1976-1990, with stops at four different NBA franchises, and is the father of current Chicago Bulls guard Mike Dunleavy Jr. He could offer a similar splash to the TCU program that former NBA coach Larry Brown has provided SMU in recent seasons.
King Rice, Monmouth coach
Rice, 47, led Monmouth to a 27-7 record and a regular-season title in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference this season. Before falling to Iona in the conference tournament, the Hawks posted eye-catching nonconference victories over UCLA (84-81), Notre Dame (70-68), Southern California (83-73), Georgetown (83-68) and Rutgers (73-67). Rice, who played in college at North Carolina (1987-91), has posted a 78-84 record at Monmouth, with winning records the past two seasons. His roster has two guards with DFW connections (Je’lon Hornbeak, Grace Prep, and Micah Seaborn, Prime Prep).
Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech coach
Williams, 43, is a Greenville native who put together an 8-5 record in five NCAA Tournament appearances during his tenure at Marquette (2008-2014). He led the Golden Eagles to two Sweet 16 appearances (2011, 2012) and one Elite Eight appearance (2013). The Hokies (19-14) earned a berth in the NIT this season, Williams’ second at the school. Williams, who played in college at Oklahoma City University, served on staffs at UTA (1994-98), Texas A&M-Kingsville (1998-99) and Texas A&M (2004-2006) before making a name for himself at Marquette.
Kelvin Sampson, Houston coach
Sampson, 60, has an enviable record but received NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations during his tenure as the head coach at Oklahoma (1994-2006) and Indiana (2006-2008). That led to a stretch as an NBA assistant before he returned to the college ranks at Houston, where he led the Cougars to a 22-9 record and NIT berth this season. Sampson’s mark is 357-152 in his last three Division I coaching stops, but the past sanctions could be a non-starter for TCU administrators.
Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh coach
Dixon, 50, is a former TCU player (1984-87) who has built a strong program in 13 seasons as head coach of the Panthers. He has won multiple conference and national coaching honors while posting a 327-119 record at Pitt, including two trips to the NCAA Sweet 16 (2004, 2007) and one trip to the Elite Eight (2009). It seems unlikely that he would break a long-term contract with Pitt (through the 2022-23 season), an ACC school, to coach his alma mater. But he clearly would top the wish list for TCU fans.
Josh Pastner, Memphis coach
Pastner, 38, has taken the Tigers to four NCAA Tournaments and made one NIT appearance in seven seasons as coach. A college player at Arizona (1996-2000), he holds a 2-4 coaching record in NCAA games and led Memphis to a 31-5 record during the 2012-13 season. A move from a program in the American Athletic Conference to one in a Power 5 league might entice Pastner despite minimal ties to Texas or the Big 12.
Scott Cross, UTA coach
The most successful coach in school history has the Mavericks (23-10) headed to postseason play for the fourth time in the past nine seasons with Wednesday’s CIT matchup against Savannah State (16-15). Cross, a former UTA player (1995-98), owns the school record for single-season victories (24), set in 2011-12, and could break it this season. Cross, 41, recently agreed in principle to a four-year contract extension. But until the document is signed, he remains someone who might be tempted to move from a mid-major program to a Big 12 school.