BOSTON – Boston College is down another man.
The basketball team that struggled to fill out a lineup as COVID-19 protocols chipped away at the roster lost coach Jim Christian on Monday when he was fired with three weeks remaining in his seventh season.
The Eagles are 3-13 with just one win in 10 Atlantic Coast Conference games. Athletic director Pat Kraft said assistant Scott Spinelli will coach the team the rest of the season.
“I know that Jim gave everything that he had into leading our program and mentoring our student-athletes,” said Kraft, who inherited Christian from his predecessors. “Ultimately, the program is not headed in the right direction, and though I hesitate to make a midseason coaching change in any sport, now is the right time for us to look forward.”
Christian went 78-132 (26-94 ACC) in seven years at BC, struggling to recruit top talent and supplementing his roster with graduate transfers who showed promise. But he couldn’t elevate the school from the also-rans of the ACC, and the Big East before it.
The shallow roster proved devastating this season, when the Eagles were down to four available scholarship players because of positive coronavirus tests and the resulting contact tracing.
“That’s the 2020, new part,” Christian said on the ACC conference call Monday morning, a couple of hours before his departure was announced. “There’s no playbook for that. It’s just a feel. It’s not easy, but the guys are doing a great job getting through it.”
Once a stopping point for coaches like Bob Cousy, Chuck Daly, Tom Davis and Gary Williams, Boston College more recently has struggled to find someone who could restore the program to relevance.
BC, which has never reached the NCAA Final Four, made it to the regional final in 1994 under Jim O’Brien and won a first-round game in his final two seasons before he moved on to Ohio State. Al Skinner took over in 1997 and from 2001-10 took the Eagles to the tournament seven times.
But they haven’t been back since 2009, Skinner’s next-to-last season. Steve Donahue was hired away from Cornell and lasted four seasons before he was replaced by Christian, another small-school coach looking to make an impact in the Power Five.
A winner for most of the dozen years he spent at Kent State, TCU and Ohio, Christian was hired by then-BC athletic director Brad Bates. After going 7-25 in his second season — including an 0-18 record in the ACC — Christian had the Eagles above .500 two years later.
It would be his only winning season in Chestnut Hill.
Christian’s job was said to be in jeopardy after BC went 14-17 the next year, and after a 13-19 record in 2019-20 new athletic director Martin Jarmond said he had a “heart-to-heart” with Christian about the program’s future. With the pandemic canceling the NCAA Tournament and leaving this season in doubt, Jarmond said “it was not a time to introduce a lot of change when there’s a lot of uncertainty.”
“There’s uncertainty when we’re going to have students back on campus, there’s uncertainty about graduation, there’s uncertainty about the fall,” he said. “With so much uncertainty, I just feel it’s important to have stability in your leadership.”
Jarmond left in May and was replaced a month later by Kraft.
The Eagles opened the season with a respectable 76-67 loss to then-No. 3 Villanova and then beat Rhode Island. They then lost nine of their next 11 games, with five others postponed during a 21-day coronavirus shutdown.
They had just four scholarship players available for a Feb. 2 game against No. 20 Florida State that was eventually called off — because of a positive test on the Seminoles. BC had just six scholarship players against North Carolina State and Wake Forest, and seven for Saturday’s game against Syracuse — all losses. Later Monday, the team suspended guard Wynston Tabbs for violating the school’s COVID-19 protocols.
“It’s not easy,” Christian said Saturday after the 75-67 loss to Syracuse that would turn out to be his finale. “Obviously, we’re not the only ones going through that. But that’s the facts.”
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