After deliberating for the better part of three weeks, Boston College finally concluded its search for a men’s basketball coach Thursday, naming Jim Christian of Ohio University.
Christian, 49, of Bethpage, N.Y., takes over from Steve Donahue, who went 54-76 in four years at The Heights but was dismissed after an 8-24 season with two years remaining on his contract.
BC athletic director Brad Bates cited “three remarkable traits’’ that set Christian apart:
■ his ability to recruit and develop players;
■ his energy and enthusiasm, which are needed to give a downtrodden program an instant jolt;
■ and his proven track record as a head coach who has taken teams to postseason play eight times in 12 seasons, including a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances, at three schools: Kent State, Texas Christian, and Ohio.
“I had the benefit of watching Jim when we both worked in the Mid-American Conference,’’ said Bates, who was AD at Miami of Ohio when Christian coached at Kent State. “He’s always been on my list as someone who I had a high regard for. During the process, he obviously not only validated my impressions of him, but far surpassed them.’’
When Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, who was thought by some to be a shoo-in for the job, removed himself from consideration last Saturday, Christian emerged as BC’s leading candidate once Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins and St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt were eliminated from the process this week.
“I’m tremendously excited and humbled to take over a program with the tradition and history of Boston College,’’ Christian said on a conference call from Athens, Ohio. “If you look at the great coaches and the success that they’ve had, it’s a situation where you wake up every day and you just can’t wait to get to work.
“I can’t wait to get up there and meet our players and spend as much time getting to know them as possible and just go attack the things we want. Again, I’m just truly grateful for the opportunity that Mr. Bates and Father [William P.] Leahy [BC president] have given me.
“I’m going to make them proud.’’
Christian is a 1988 University of Rhode Island graduate who began his playing career in 1983 at Boston University, where he was recruited by Rick Pitino. When Pitino left for the New York Knicks, Christian played two seasons for John Kuester before transferring to play for Tom Penders at URI.
“For me, being from New York, going to school in Boston, and graduating from Rhode Island, it’s kind of in my wheelhouse,’’ Christian said.
“You’ve got to try and find a job that you think is a great fit for you, and there’s no doubt in my mind that, for me and what I’m looking for in my career, Boston College is a tremendous fit.’’
Christian went 49-21 in two seasons at Ohio, guiding the Bobcats to postseason berths in the NIT and CIT, in which they reached the quarterfinals this season.
Christian developed a reputation as a strong recruiter in the East. He was an assistant at Pittsburgh (1996-99) before taking his first head coaching job at Kent State. He went 137-54 in six seasons, making five postseason appearances, including a pair in the NCAA Tournament after winning the MAC championship in 2005-06 and 2007-08.
Christian departed Kent State in 2008 for Texas Christian, where he went 56-73 in four seasons at the Mountain West Conference school before he was lured back to Ohio for a second tour of duty in the MAC with a five-year contract worth $450,000 per year, with a $500,000 buyout.
He ranks as the MAC’s winningest coach at 186-80 (.706).
The deliberate pace of BC’s search gave fans pause to wonder about the administration’s support of the basketball program. But Christian said he was given the assurance he could “go out and hire the best people I can,’’ in assembling his staff.
“That just excites me,’’ Christian said. “Because the one thing that became clear to me as the process went on and on was the commitment level from Brad and the entire administration toward Boston College basketball.’’
Christian remained in Ohio Thursday to deliver the news to his team. Bates met with BC’s players to inform them of the decision.
What was the team’s reaction?
“I think it was just relief,’’ Bates said.
Christian will inherit a squad that returns six seniors from a squad that compiled the most losses in school history. The Eagles did, however, score a 62-59 overtime victory at Syracuse Feb. 19 that knocked the top-ranked Orange from the ranks of the undefeated.
“I’m going to do everything I can to help them get better,” said Christian. “I’m not waiting for ‘my guys’ to get here. Every single guy on that roster is one of my guys, because these guys who are on this returning team are going to be the foundation of the culture that we’re trying to have to win basketball games.”