FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — New TCU coach Jim Christian vowed his team would play a hard-nosed, physical brand of basketball.
Anyone who might question that needs only to look at two of his former players — San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates and Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher. Gates played basketball at Kent State while Christian was an assistant there, and he crossed paths with Fletcher while the two were together at St. Francis, Pa.
"I love football," said Christian, sporting a purple TCU hat at his introductory press conference Saturday. "I'm probably the only college basketball coach in the country who can say he's coached two Pro Bowl players. In another life I might have come down as a football coach."
Christian will leave the football program to others and focus his energies on TCU basketball. The Horned Frogs hired the 43-year-old Kent State coach to turn around a struggling program that has endured three straight losing seasons and hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 1998.
"I wanted to find a place with untapped potential," Christian said. "If you look at the football program, the tenure of the coaches here, a lot of things are in place. It's time for our program to ante up and fight for those championships."
Christian was 138-58 at Kent State the past six seasons. The Golden Flash won at least 20 games each of those seasons, including a 28-7 mark this season when they were knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the first round by UNLV — the same team that ended TCU's season.
He became the first Mid-American Conference coach to win 20 games in each of his first six seasons. But he didn't win a postseason game, losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament twice and the NIT three times.
After the Golden Flash went 25-9 with an NCAA appearance in 2005-06, Christian got a new seven-year contract through the 2012-13 season.
Christian also was an assistant on the 2002 Kent State team — on which Gates was a starter — which made the final eight of the NCAA Tournament in 2002.
"The hardest part was telling people you love that you are moving on," said Christian, who was named TCU's basketball coach on Saturday. "Especially a place where you watched the program do great things for six years. But (TCU) was enticing. It was obviously a situation I couldn't pass up."
TCU athletic director Danny Morrison said Christian was at the top of school's wish list after Neil Dougherty was fired March 16, three days after TCU lost 89-88 to host UNLV in the Mountain West Conference tournament to end a 14-16 season. He had a year left on his contract.
"We feel fortunate to get the person we targeted," Morrison said. "If you look at his background, you look at the sustainability of that program the last six years, it was evident he was the right fit here."
Dougherty was 75-108 in his six seasons, with a winning record only once. After the Frogs went 21-14 and made it to the National Invitation Tournament in 2004-05, they slipped to 6-25 the following season. TCU has gone 13-17 and 14-16 the past two seasons, and it last made the NCAA Tournament when Billy Tubbs was the coach.
"I'm ready to get this started," Christian said. "It's time to get to work."
The other known candidates for the TCU job were Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton, Tennessee-Chattanooga coach John Shulman and Buzz Peterson, the director of player personnel for the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats.
Kent State will conduct a national search for Christian's replacement, athletic director Laing Kennedy said.
Top assistant Geno Ford and Oklahoma assistant Oronde Taliaferro, a former assistant with the Golden Flashes, are among the possible replacements for Christian.
Christian said during his press conference he hopes Ford will get the job.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.