After finishing the season 12-21 overall and 2-16 in Big 12 play, head men's basketball coach Trent Johnson has been fired by TCU. In four years at the helm, Johnson compiled a record of just 50-79 overall. His 8-64 mark in Big 12 Conference play marks the worst winning percentage of any coach in the 20-year history of the league. Johnson's firing was first reported by Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. The university made the following announcement Monday morning:
TCU director of intercollegiate athletics Chris Del Conte has announced that Trent Johnson will not return as the Horned Frogs’ head men’s basketball coach."Trent Johnson is a man of unbelievable integrity," Del Conte said. "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. With our new facility and playing in the Big 12, the strongest basketball conference in the country, we’re positioned well to have a men’s basketball program that makes TCU and Fort Worth proud. Trent inherited a very difficult situation, and we truly appreciated his efforts over the last four years. We simply did not have the success we envisioned but believe the pieces are now in place for us to move forward."The Horned Frogs began play this season in the new $72 million Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena.A search will begin immediately for TCU’s next head men’s basketball coach.
Mounting frustration surrounding a program that has failed to take measurable steps forward, despite massive financial investments, ended Johnson's tenure at the school two years before his initial contract was set to expire. Johnson was reported to be earning around $2 million per season, after longevity and performance bonuses are factored in. The school recently unveiled the Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena after $72 million in private donations were raised to renovate the 54-year-old facility. The Frogs went 5-7 in the venue this season.
Johnson's tenure in Fort Worth certainly had its share of ups and downs. The former Nevada, Stanford, and LSU coach was hired in 2012 to replace Jim Christian, who left TCU for Ohio as the school was transitioning to the Big 12 Conference. In his first year at the helm, the Frogs went 11-21, with a marquee upset over the 5th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks, a win that still stands as the largest upset in college basketball history, in terms of RPI differential.
Marred by injuries in 2013-14, TCU finished just 9-22, becoming the first team in the history of the Big 12 Conference to go 0-18 in league play.
The following season, the program appeared to be back on the winning track as the Frogs posted 18-15 overall record with a 4-14 mark in league play. The team jumped into the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in nearly a decade as the Frogs began the season 13-0, the best start in program history. After narrowly missing the NIT, Johnson elected to decline the school's bid to participate in the pay-for-play College Basketball Invitational.
Despite the new facility and the momentum gained from last season's finish, TCU took a step backward this year, finishing with a 12-21 record overall, including a 2-16 mark in Big 12 play. In four years, Johnson's teams claimed just one road win in league action, finishing with a 1-35 record against the Big 12 away from home. His teams finished slightly better in Fort Worth, compiling a 36-24 record in the four different home venues used throughout Johnson's tenure. In total, 29 of those 36 victories came against unranked, non-conference opponents.
Although it is early to begin speculating about potential replacements, a handful of names stand out immediately. Even after signing a contract extension earlier this week that would keep him a Maverick until 2020, Texas-Arlington head coach Scott Cross could be a potential target. Cross is UTA's winningest coach in program history, guiding the Mavericks to the postseason three times in the last eight years. It is reasonable to assume TCU has the financial ability and name recognition to at least get Cross' attention.
Similarly, Stephen F. Austin head coach Brad Underwood is a name that will likely be considered. Underwood is 88-13 in three seasons at SFA with a 53-1 record in Southland Conference play. His teams have advanced to three straight NCAA Tournaments.
Former Horned Frog Scott Brooks is another coach that could figure into the equation. Brooks has taken this year off from coaching after being let go by the Oklahoma City Thunder last season.
Finally, it should be noted that former Frog Jamie Dixon signed a 10-year contract extension at Pittsburgh following the conclusion of the 2012-13 season in which he is set to make over $3.2 million per year. It is highly unlikely that TCU will be able to offer Dixon a deal enticing enough for him to leave Pitt for his alma mater.
Right off the bat, Trent Johnson's replacement will face some major challenges keeping the TCU roster together. Eleven of the 12 players recruited by Johnson are set to return next season, with incoming recruits Josh Parrish and Alex Robinson committed to the program. The top priority will likely remain retaining as much of that talent as possible.
Additionally, it remains to be seen how this change will impact the recruitment of top center prospect Marques Bolden. TCU joins Duke, Kentucky, and Oklahoma as the final schools with a shot to land the superstar from DeSoto. Johnson had been recruiting Bolden heavily for quite some time.
Stay tuned to Frogs O' War for continuous coverage of this rapidly changing situation.