Christian back in familiar spot at Ohio U
ATHENS, Ohio — In a few ways, Jim Christian has been here before.
In six years at Kent State — with at least 20 wins in each season — he coached his share of games against Ohio University. His first year at Kent, 2003, came as a new coach taking over a team coming off a dream season, as the Flashes had advanced all the way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.
Tuesday, Christian was officially named head coach at Ohio University. For his personal encore, he takes over a Mid-American Conference team coming off an appearance in the Sweet 16.
For the past four years, Christian has been the head coach at Texas Christian University. Up until the last six days, he thought he'd be back at TCU for the Horned Frogs' first season in the Big 12 and a chance to build on his first winning season of the four he'd been at TCU.
But when Ohio University athletic director Jim Schaus reached out last week — first through a mutual friend, leading to a meeting at the Final Four in New Orleans — Christian was immediately intrigued.
"Watching things transpire, as they do every spring with college basketball coaches, I was saying in the back of my mind, 'I hope they call me,'" Christian said of his new employer. "When the call came in, I think I sprinted (to answer it). It was instantaneous for me."
Schaus and Christian met in New Orleans on Friday, and both returned to their respective campuses Sunday. The deal was finalized Monday, and by Tuesday morning Christian had met with his new players.
Christian is back in the MAC, with a career conference record of 138-58. He has a five-year contract worth $425,000 annually.
"It's too good to be true," Schaus said. "I came into this with an open mind. I did not start this process with Jim Christian as our head coach, by no means. I had no set agenda. There was a small number of people I spoke with or interviewed over three days in New Orleans.
"There's never a guarantee when you hire a coach. He's the winningest coach in the history of the league. They're restarting the hall of fame for the Mid-American Conference, and I guarantee you that Jim Christian is going to be one of the people inducted in that Hall of Fame pretty darn soon."
The job became open when John Groce, who won two MAC Tournament titles in his three-season tenure, left for Illinois last week. Schaus said he had substantive conversations with "probably six" candidates, internal and external, before proceeding with conversations with Christian and TCU.
"Ohio University just had a special, special season that put it on a national stage," Christian said. "I'm going to work tirelessly to keep this program along the same path."
He'll do it in familiar territory. Christian was an assistant at Kent in 2001-02 before taking the head coaching job, during which time his teams won at least a part of the MAC regular-season title four times and won the tournament title twice.
The best man in Christian's wedding was current Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff. One of the first people Christian talked to this week was former Kent State coach Geno Ford, an Ohio University alum who's now the head coach at Bradley.
"This a funny business," Christian said. "You never know. I just know I was so happy to have this opportunity. This is a special place for my wife and my family. This, without question, is the best thing for me, the best thing for our family."
Christian's wife, Patty, is an Ohio University alum. They were married in 2005, a few months after Ohio beat Kent in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals.
"I looked up in the crowd after the game," Jim Christian said, "and she was leading the cheers."
Patty Christian laughed about that Tuesday and said she's learned to be a better coach's wife.
In this spot, she's used to rooting for the guys in green and white. Her husband is in a familiar spot, too.