It finally happened. Coach Jim Christian, after 7 years of winning .371% of games and going a measly .217% in the ACC, has been relieved of his duties. It was pretty much known that this would have happened after last season if not for the COVID-19 pandemic striking NCAA sports on the day BC ended its season.
But my question is... why didn’t it happen sooner than that?
BC fans have known for years now that Coach Christian was not the leader this program needed. His inconsistent coaching style and failure to show steady improvement has been evident for a while now. Repeated seasons of finishing in the bottom quarter of the ACC, while his own players cycled through the program, left many of us wondering when the Athletics department would finally pull the plug.
When should it have happened?
I’m usually a big fan of giving coaches the benefit of the doubt, especially when they haven’t yet had time to fully implement their cultures or bring in their own players. Barring a scandal or utter ineptitude, a coach should have about 3-4 years to prove that they can improve a program.
Having said that, Jim Christian probably should have been fired following his 3rd season at BC, the 2016-17 season that saw BC go 9-23 overall and 2-16 in-conference. If not at that point, Jim Christian should absolutely have been fired after his 5th season on the Heights, following the disappointing 2018-19 campaign. Here’s the timeline of why:
The 2016-17 season
Most Eagles fans know that in just his second year, 2015-16, Jim Christian’s Eagles went winless in the ACC. While this record was potentially a fire-able offense in itself, it came very early in Coach Christian’s tenure while he was still implementing his system. As I said before, judging a coach with a roster that mainly consists of players recruited by someone else may not be fair. But when the next year rolled around, the squad belonged to Jim.
ALL of the major players on that team were recruited by him. Jerome Robinson, Ky Bowman, Jordan Chatman, AJ Turner, Connar Tava, Nik Popovic, Maurice Jeffers, and others on that squad were all either recruited in high school by Christian or were brought over by him through transfer. With the amount of talent that Robinson was bringing, along with the immediate infusion of Bowman who was electric as a freshman, this team should have been a lot better. Instead, they won 2 ACC games and ended the season on a 15 game losing streak that included a first-round ACC tournament exit. That should have been the end.
Though I can see an argument against it, I suppose. Robinson was only a sophomore, Bowman was only a freshman. Their development looked promising and perhaps Christian could prove that it was just age that lead to this team’s paltry record. Those who watched could see signs of bad things to come, like Coach Christian’s inconsistent game-planning and his inability to recruit big men to establish a presence at the rim. But it was still just his 3rd season, and BC’s fanbase was largely still split.
The 2018-19 season
Coming off of the previous season, the Eagles were hot. Their record had jumped to 19-16 overall and their ACC record, while still under .500, was a much more respectable 7-11. Led by the dynamic play of guards Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman, the Eagles upset #1 Duke and had BC basketball fans excited for the first time in years. Now, however, we know that this would be the peak of Jim Christian’s tenure at Boston College.
It seems obvious in retrospect. Everything that possibly could’ve gone right for the Eagles that year went right. And they still only managed to go 7-11 in the ACC. Jerome Robinson was an NBA Lottery pick and Ky Bowman was not far behind as a future All-ACC 2nd team player. Jordan Chatman was lights out from the 3 and Nik Popovic, while sloppy, was becoming a legitimate scoring threat down low. It became much more obvious in the following season that it was going to be all downhill from here.
The 2018-19 campaign was yet another one marked by disappointment. Just a year removed from an NIT bid and a short ACC tourney run, the Eagles slumped to a 14-17 overall record, going 5-13 in the ACC which was good for 11th place in a 14-team conference. Losing 6 of their last 7, including a 26-point loss to 8th place NC State followed by a first round ACC tourney exit against Pitt, ended the Eagles’ season. Ky Bowman was an All-ACC 2nd team player, but he was one of the few highlights for that squad.
After losing Jerome Robinson to the NBA, BC still managed to bring back starters Ky Bowman, Jordan Chapman, Nik Popovic, and Steffon Mitchell. They also added a great freshman scorer in Wynston Tabbs, who would end up missing about half of the season due to injury. All of those players should have developed and become better enough versions of themselves that the absence of Robinson could be overcome, or the team’s record could at least have been matched. Instead, the Eagles regressed back down the ACC standings and it became clear that Christian was mostly riding the performance of his star players. He struggled to develop the team’s role players or develop game-plans that could consistently put the Eagles in contention to win. If Christian couldn’t succeed with a roster of experienced starters that were 100% developed by him, then when could he succeed? The writing was on the wall, and Coach Christian should absolutely have been fired after the 2018-19 campaign.
So where do we go from here?
If BC’s 7-year stint with Jim Christian has taught us anything, it’s that we need a coach who knows what they are doing. Now is not the time to take a risk on an up-and-comer that is looking to fundamentally change the game of basketball with risky game-planning or experimental line-ups. What BC needs is a steady hand that can slowly build a program back from where Steve Donahue and Jim Christian left us. When looking at candidates for this position, I hope that BC prioritizes previous coaching & recruiting experience rather than gambling on an unknown. Sure, the Eagles may miss out on a surprise home-run hire with that strategy. But this hire comes at a crucial moment in BC basketball when the Athletic department can either start this rebuild immediately the right way, or risk setting the program back for another 7 years of bottom-feeding in the ACC.