When Trent Johnson was hired in 2012, TCU’s athletic program was in the throes of its Big 12 honeymoon.
The football Horned Frogs, winners of the 2011 Rose Bowl, were ready.
The baseball program, two years removed from a College World Series appearance, was ready.
Johnson’s basketball Frogs, however, had no banner-winning legacy to present at the Big 12 door.
But that was one of the things that attracted athletic director Chris Del Conte to Johnson. Amid the uncertainties of the new league, Del Conte knew it would take someone with Johnson’s integrity, his experience and his character to weather the stormy transition into the new league.
But, oh, what a storm it turned out to be.
Following a meeting Monday morning with Johnson and his basketball team, Del Conte officially announced that Johnson has been dismissed as head coach.
“Trent Johnson is a man of unbelievable integrity,” Del Conte said in a statement posted on the TCU website. “It’s hard to find a better person than Trent, and I have the highest level of respect for him. However, we believe change is needed in the leadership of our men’s basketball program.”
Though Johnson himself reportedly wanted to wait to inform the team Monday, he confirmed his firing late Sunday night.
You didn’t have to connect the dots to see that Johnson’s 8-64 in Big 12 play (50-79 overall) was not the smooth transition that TCU had hoped for.
In the end, to be accurate, there weren’t very many dots to connect at all. An upset over Texas this season, a fairy tale upset of Kansas, a December-favorable 18-15 record in Johnson’s third season.
As the team staggered down the stretch this season, however, people who were paying attention had to be wondering if the Big 12 was racing that faster ahead, or whether the Frogs had lapsed into reverse.
Without question, Johnson has been every bit the man and the honorable representative of TCU basketball that Del Conte asked him to be. But it’s hard to hide a 50-79 record.
With a gleaming and impressively restored arena, TCU has already doubled down on its commitment to basketball. Clearly, a $72-million makeover carries with it an expectation to win.
Win more than 8-64.
Johnson did his part over the weekend, posting a pledge of recommitment to the basketball program’s future that was signed by him and the players. But he did that on his own.
Injuries plagued Johnson’s recent teams. He also would have welcomed back an interesting nucleus next season, including Texas A&M transfer Alex Robinson.
What Johnson saw as another reason to hope, however, likely was part of the reason for his dismissal. TCU has five scholarships to offer in this recruiting class. And of the few criticisms that you could levy at Johnson, his inability to recruit Big 12-caliber players seems the most valid.
TCU simply can’t afford to miss on these five upcoming scholarship slots.
College basketball has grown to be a nasty business. And Trent Johnson was uncompromising in the kind of athletes he wanted to recruit.
There is a middle ground in there somewhere. Maybe Johnson doesn’t want to straddle it.
His record won’t be deemed a success. But Trent Johnson’s time at TCU won a lot of people over because of the way he conducted himself and ran his program.
The Big 12, however, is a stormy basketball league.
At TCU, they’re raising the bar while still carrying the umbrellas.