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A Coach’s Christening
Ohio unveils Christian as ‘new captain of our ship’
Jim Christian grimaced as his then-fiancée, an Ohio University alumna, led the “winning team, losing team” chant during the final moments of an Ohio win against his Kent State squad in the 2005 Mid-American Conference men’s basketball tournament.
Seven years later, Christian stepped to the podium in The Convo on Tuesday and was introduced as the 17th coach of the MAC’s most recent “winning team.”
“I couldn’t be more excited or any more appreciative of the opportunity afforded to me by Ohio University, to be a part of this athletic department and to be part of the Athens community,” Christian said.
Christian comes to Ohio after spending the past four years as the head coach at Texas Christian University and the six years prior as the head coach at Kent State. He’ll make $425,000 per year and will be under contract through the 2016–17 season.
Christian was contacted about the Ohio position last Wednesday — before former coach John Groce was introduced at Illinois — and met with Ohio Director of Athletics Jim Schaus on Friday. He officially agreed to become the team’s next coach Monday morning, just four days after Groce left for his new job in Champaign, Ill.
Among Christian’s qualifications are his 138 wins in six seasons as Kent State’s head coach. Christian’s resumé also includes four MAC East crowns and two trips to the NCAA Tournament.
He reached the 20-win plateau each season at Kent State, leaving the school with a 70-percent winning percentage — the highest ever among MAC coaches who coached at least five seasons in the conference.
“There’s probably a few offices around the MAC that are probably a little disappointed to see Jim come back,” Schaus said. “Our new captain of our ship is going to be the individual that is going to take this program to higher levels of excellence.”
After arriving in Ohio Monday night, Christian met with the team for the first time Tuesday morning and scheduled individual meetings with each player for Wednesday.
Christian told the players that he comes from the same background as Groce and commended them on the success they have had.
“The only promise that I can make is that I’m going to do everything in my power and work tirelessly to keep this program along that same path,” Christian said.
“With the same integrity, with the same work ethic, the same values and the same culture that enabled them to get to unprecedented heights for Ohio University basketball.”
Christian said he is unsure about the makeup of his coaching staff but said he has known Dustin Ford, Groce’s top assistant during his tenure at Ohio, for 20 years and would be interested in adding Ford to his staff.
Ford’s brother, Geno, was an assistant for Christian for four years at Kent State.
“That’s a process for two people. Coach Groce has his staff, and I have some assistants at TCU,” Christian said. “We have to let the waters go where the waters go on that and do what’s best for both our programs.”
As he did 10 years ago when he took over a Kent State squad coming off a run to the Elite Eight, Christian inherits a team coming off the most wins in school history.
But the Golden Flashes were led by a group of four seniors, whereas the Bobcats will return 100 percent of their minutes next season as long as no players decide to leave the program. None has indicated any desire to play elsewhere.
Schaus said the fact that Christian has previous head-coaching experience made him an appealing hire, especially heading into a season in which expectations will likely be at unprecedented heights.
“He knows everything about being a head coach, so I don’t think we have to go through a learning curve,” Schaus said. “We found a head coach that can hit the ground running.”