"I'm serious. I'm here to work"
New men's basketball coach Jim Christian, son of a New York City cop, admits he's blue collar and more than a little intense.
But he thinks TCU's potential is unlimited and the time to win is now.
By Rick Waters '95
Welcome, Coach. You’ve been here about two months. What’s stood out about TCU so far? The people and how willing they’ve been to help. As I walk around the campus, the word that comes to mind is intimate. It’s a walking campus. Inviting. A place to get to know people.
In your opening press conference, you described some of the basketball facilities here as “DisneyLand.” Come on, you’re exaggerating. Facilities are always relative. Compared to where I was before, this place has everything you’d want for a basketball program. There’s a state-of-the-art practice facility. There are two [practice] floors available to you at all times – available to the players 24-7. Even the growth around campus – it’s striking. I’ve already told the team, “You’re spoiled. You don’t know how good you have it.” This place is exceptional. There’s no reason why players shouldn’t be in here working on their game. Why wouldn’t you want to utilize everything that’s available to you to get better? That includes the training facility to the weight and strength equipment they have. It shows the commitment made to this being a winning program.
You had to fight for court time at Kent State, didn’t you? If there was a wrestling meet, a gymnastics meet, a concert, graduation, women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, we had to go to the rec center. We all shared the same floor. So we’d be on Court 1. On Court 2 was pick-up games. On Court 3 was a rec league game. That didn’t bother us. We knew we had a job to do. We just had to get things done. We took what we had and made the most of it. That’s all I am asking here – let’s make the most of what we have.
The Kent State program is one of six in the country to have 10 straight 20-win seasons – the last six came under you. TCU, on the other hand, hasn’t been to the NCAAs in 10 seasons and has been below .500 in five of the last six years. Yet you say this is a step up for you. Why do you see it that way? I think the potential of this place is unlimited. I think you can make this job here at TCU what you want to make of it. I don’t look backward. I don’t want the players to look backward. I told them I came here to win – and win right away. There are always obstacles. Every program has them. We have to find ways to get over the,m, around them, through them – whatever we have to do. But the mentality of this basketball program has got to change.
Talk about your the staff you’re bringing on board. We have a lot of experience. We have a lot of coaches that played the college game and know the college game. They can relate to players. Jean Prioleau was a great recruiter in Texas for Iowa State and Marquette. Bill Wuczynski spent five years at UNLV and knows the Mountain West Conference. He’s known around the nation as an excellent recruiter and a very hard worker. Anthony Anderson knows the Metroplex area very well from working at SMU and UT-Arlington. Then Eric Haut will be our Director of Basketball Operations. He played for me at Kent State and coached with me at Kent State and knows what I am trying to accomplish. It’s a very talented staff and I’m excited about building this program with them.
What’s the style of play you want to employ? The first thing I want to do is evaluate our team. I don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves to a style of play. I want to play the way that fits our personnel and gives us the best chance to win games. That’s it. I will say that everything will evolve around the defensive end of the floor. We’re going to be a team that plays hard, is physical, is going to make the other team earn everything that they get. That’s going to be our trademark. Offensively, I’d love to be able to play uptempo if we have the players to do that. If not, we’ll do what plays to the strengths of our players.
Describe your demeanor on the sideline. Are you a screamer? A footstomper? A guy who flings his jacket? Well, the jacket won’t be on – I’ll tell you that. I’m intense, a high-energy guy. That’s kinda me – on the sideline and when I wake up for breakfast. I’ve been doing this for six years and I have two technical fouls.
What were the technicals for? Do you remember? One was one I shouldn’t have got – at Old Dominion. Ref made a call from way across the court. He was in the wrong position and he apologized for it later. I questioned the call, and he gave me one. The one I got this year was my only technical foul in league play. I was defending one of my kids who had just been thrown out of the game.
Those don’t sound very egregious. I realize that I get paid to stay on the court during the game. [Getting kicked out] is not a habit I want to be in.
What are your expectations for Year 1? It’s hard to say until you establish a full team. But I do know that I am not going to change who I am. I expect this team to compete for a conference championship, same as every other team in the league. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how willing the players have been to adjust to a new coach and buy in to what we’re doing.
You had a practice the day after your introductory press conference. What happened at that practice? What did you see in the team? What were you trying to accomplish? Best way to relate and communicate as a coach to a team is to get on the floor and teach. Let them see what they’re getting. Let me see what I am getting. We could sit in meetings and talk all day about it, but I’d rather get out there and do what we all love to do – play basketball. Let’s get started right away. If I could have, I would have done it right after the press conference. Let’s not waste any time. That’s the way it’s got to be. I want them to see that I’m serious. I’m here to work.
What is your philosophy with scheduling? A lot of it reflects the team. You want to challenge them. You want them to be successful. You want kids to have home games so people can come out and support the team. It’s a combination of all that.
You played for Tom Penders on the Rhode Island team in 1988 that made the Sweet 16. What was it like to play for him? Hated it. [Laughs] Nah, just kidding. Coach Penders is a throwback coach and he’s been doing this a long, long time. He has great relationships with his players.
What was your favorite memory from that season? There were a lot that stand out. The thing I would tell you is that there aren’t many guys on that team that I don’t talk to today. Five of us got into coaching. Bonzie Colson is at Boston College. Carlton Owens was at Texas with Coach Penders. Tommy Garrick is the women’s coach at Rhode Island. Mergin Sina just got done playing and is coaching at the high school level. I’m the coach at TCU. That’s a lot to be said for the kind of guys we had. We’re all stupid or all smart, but we’re all hanging in there together.
Who were some of the coaches that influenced you? Coach [Ralph] Willard was my high school coach. Not many guys in high school get to play for a coach of his stature. We just knew that he was going to go on to big things. He’s probably one of the most respected men in the profession in the country. I also had the opportunity to work with Coach Herb Sendek at Miami (Ohio). He’s one of the most detail-oriented, most organized coaches I’ve ever met in my life. The things he did at North Carolina State and now Arizona State don’t surprise me. When I was at Western Kentucky, [Indiana coach] Tom Crean and I were on the same staff. At Miami, I was on the staff with [Ohio State coach] Thad Motta I have a great relationship with both those guys. These are guys that I learned with and developed some of the same core values and coach the same way, run a program the same way.
What did you get from the two years you spent out of coaching at Octagon Sports Marketing and Management as a talent evaluator? It was good to see the business of sports. I had a chance to sit in on negotiations and hear different viewpoints about the game – the operational side, the management side. As coaches we tend to focus on things that deal directly with practice or players or games, it was enlightening to see other aspects. The other thing I think it did, being removed from the game, it made me appreciate how much being a part of team is important to me and how much I miss that. I missed watching players develop. I missed the daily aspects of being a basketball coach. There’s no doubt that this is what I was called to do and a going to do for the rest of my life. But it was good to be refreshed a bit.
Your dad was a New York City police officer for more than 20 years. What did you take from his being in that profession? Two things: I got a respect for hard work. I saw how committed he was to his job and how he went about it. You don’t get these things right away when you’re growing up, but you do notice and take those things with you. Secondly, my dad wanted just one thing – he wanted me to do whatever I wanted to with my life. And he put me in a position to do that. He made sacrifices. Police officers don’t make a ton of money. So he made some sacrifices so I could have opportunities to be around basketball. I’ll never forget it.
Where is your dad today? Florida. He follows my teams closely. I talk to my family every day.
Knowing that football is king in Texas, do you have to adjust your approach to being a basketball coach in this part of the country? No. I love football. In another life, I am a football coach. I think it’s something to embrace. Texas has a lot of people who love sports. They can love basketball too. Look at Florida. Look at Ohio State. You can have it all sports. Look at TCU. The football program is unbelievable. I’m trying to use Coach Patterson and his staff as best I can to learn. They are successful here. They have a model that works, and I am trying to see it. Look at baseball. Look at tennis. The tennis coach [Dave Borelli] has won six national championships. You know I’m going to be talking to him. I don’t think I have all the answers, but I know how to ask questions. There are coaches that have been here 20 years. They get it. They understand what this place is about and how to be successful here. Those are resources.
How will you reach out to fans that may be disillusioned or apathetic by recent losing seasons? I think change is good. Sometimes changes helps turn a page for some people. I tend to reach out to people and talk to them about what I want the basketball program to be. I try to let them know how important their support is to the program. I’m not afraid to talk to anybody. I’m open. The other thing is that you have to put a good product out there on the court. Sometimes the scoreboard doesn’t reflect everything. But if the kids go out there and work their hearts out, we will have people come back. And as things get better, we’ll have get more support.
You took the job sight unseen. Anything about TCU surprise you? All the construction going on campus is just exciting. To see what the chancellor and the university is trying to do is an exciting time. The basketball program is a small part of it. But I tell you what, I feel like something is building here, something really monumental could happen in the next few years. People are going to be drawn here or drawn back here, and it’s a fun time for me to get here as it’s all about to get going.
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