Most Boston College Eagles fans did not even know who Jim Christian was last week.
Now, the future of the program depends on whether or not he will be successful.
On Thursday afternoon, following several days of rumors and rumblings, Brad Bates hired Jim Christian out of Ohio University to coach a program in ruins. The Eagles just recently wrapped up one of the worst seasons in their lengthy history, losing 24 more games on top of the 39 from the previous two years.
Maybe the school truly believed this was a match made in Heaven, or maybe this coach was the only one biting. One thing, however, is for certain: Boston College’s hiring of Jim Christian as men’s basketball coach might work out, but it is very easy to be skeptical that he’s the right fit.
For the last five years, dating back to Al Skinner’s final season at Boston College, there have been doubts about the future of the program. The Eagles have not made the NCAA Tournament since 2009, and this is a drought that looked like it might continue beyond 2014, Steve Donahue present or not. Bates made a coaching change to try to improve the program’s lot, which was the right call. Of course, that was only one half of the total equation, with the other part being getting the replacement hire right.
The jury will be out on Jim Christian for some time, but his resume is not promising when keeping in context where Boston College is as a program right now. In his previous successes, Jim Christian inherited teams that were (for MAC teams, anyway) outstanding. Kent State, his first head coaching gig, made the Elite Eight the year before he took over. In the six years that followed, he was able to maintain a relative level of success, making two NCAA Tournaments with no wins but not cratering. Most recently, at Ohio, he took over Illinois coach John Groce’s program, which made the Sweet Sixteen the prior year. To his credit, Christian was able to uphold their winning ways to some degree, but never duplicate his predecessors’ successes.
Now that we have established that Boston College’s new coach only won at teams that were ready-made for him, let’s look at the one where he did not win: the TCU Horned Frogs, at the time of the Mountain West. Granted, that’s a school not known for its basketball, but after four years, he got TCU to about .500 before what can best be described as a mutually-agreeable parting of the ways. Like he will encounter at Boston College, Christian was left with nothing in Fort Worth and there were some tough times.
Fast forward to 2014, when Boston College hails this new coach as the way forward. The athletic director’s framing of his rationale for hiring Christian was heavy on platitudes:
Jim Christian brings three remarkable traits to Boston College basketball. First, he sincerely cares about his student-athletes and will be a catalyst for their development as basketball players, scholars, servers and leaders, while creating a family culture that brings pride to the BC community.
That’s nice. I’m fairly sure Steve Donahue did as well. Anyway, continue.
Second, his energy is contagious and his passion inspiring, which will resonate throughout our program.
Again, the last coach was a high-energy guy, too. It’s nice, but not a priority. Finally?
Finally, he is a proven winner with an outstanding winning percentage and three conference championships. We are very excited to have Jim Christian leading Boston College basketball, and look forward to an extraordinary future.
A proven winner — in the MAC. A proven winner who won with teams that were winning bigger and better right before he got there. A proven winner who was fortunate enough to take over two programs that were already doing well, not having had to undertake a massive rebuild like he will at Boston College. Oh, and a proven winner who has never proven anything at this level of coaching.
Nobody is going to argue that he did a bad job at Kent State and Ohio, but I hope we’re really not going to compare winning in the godawful MAC to winning in the ACC against the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, and very soon Louisville. By the way, did you know Steve Donahue had the most single-season wins of any Ivy League coach (29), a record which still stands, and was far and away the best coach in his former employer’s history? We could play this game all day, kids. None of it matters in the ACC.
Those three things mentioned above might be all Boston College needed to seal this hire, but there were two very relevant and mandatory criteria in my mind which were needed in this coach:
1.) Reasonable experience in and around major-conference programs, and if possible, in the building of such.
2.) Substantial experience recruiting at the major-conference level.
And here’s what we know about Jim Christian regarding those criteria:
1.) Christian spent a grand total of three seasons as a Big East (Pittsburgh) assistant from 1996 to 1999. Only one of those teams was barely above .500 and made the NIT. He has not coached at a major-conference program in 15 years.
2.) In keeping with the previous, it’s fairly safe to say he has none.
Boston College’s new basketball coach is 0-for-2 on items that we needed. Why did we need them? Because the old coach lacked those things.
That’s right: Boston College fired a coach that had concerns about his ability to win and recruit at this level — and replaced him with a coach that has the same concerns about his ability to win and recruit at this level. What was that definition of insanity again? Something about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?
There is no guarantee Jim Christian will fail at Boston College. In fact, I think most hope he succeeds as, like it or not, he is the guy. That does not however invalidate criticisms of him, which are based off of the facts available to us. Jim Christian has enough in common in terms of qualifications and resume with his Eagles predecessor to raise serious doubt about whether or not he is a good fit for the program at this time.
Were this program a 17 to 20-win team with a coaching vacancy, Jim Christian might not have looked so bad. Uninspiring, sure, but not a terrible hire, as he has proven competent (at a lower level, anyway) with regards to maintaining the status quo. Yet, in the context of this situation, Boston College is throwing him into a gigantic rebuild in a high-pressure conference when there is a healthy amount of skepticism about him as it is. He is not being written off yet, but the downside is obvious and fans have every right to believe that things might not work out based upon what we know of his history.
He can differentiate himself from Donahue by, for example, hiring a competent ACC-caliber staff, but even at that, the doubts remain. Jim Christian has a lot to prove to a lot of people, not the least of whom are the donors who have sat by and watched Boston College basketball self-destruct over the last several years. How does he propose to rebuild? How does he propose to recruit and win? I don’t particularly care that he’s nice and players like him: the same things were said of Donahue, and his tenure was anything but enjoyable.
Can Jim Christian win in the ACC? I don’t know, but we’re going to find out. Sadly, the fact that we even have to ask that question in this program’s current state is bad news.