Jim Christian’s past lessons lead him to head coaching return at Canisius

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — It’s been three years since Jim Christian was a head coach, and his lessons from the past paved the way for him to be the 25th men’s basketball coach at Canisius.

Christian, who has 19 years of head coaching experience, was fired by Boston College midway through the 2020-21 season, his seventh at the helm of the program, with an overall record of 78-132 (26-94 ACC). Since then, he said he has been waiting for the right opportunity to lead a program again.

“For anybody here who has done something in life and just missed on their expectations, maybe they fell a little bit short on something they wanted to accomplish, they didn’t measure to their own high expectations,” Christian said. “In my last stop, I failed to meet my own expectations. So when something like that happens there’s an inner process, you either blame others or you can look inward and you can try to see what it is you’re doing. My drive from that point forward was to get back and find a program that might need somebody like me.”

Christian has seen success at the mid-major level before. He spent six seasons at Kent State between 2002-2008, going 137-59 and reaching the NCAA tournament twice. After a four-year stint as the head coach at TCU, he went back to the MAC to spend two seasons at Ohio, going 49-22 and reaching the NIT in his first season in 2013. In all, he has over 300 Division I wins to his name.

Canisius hires veteran Jim Christian to coach men’s basketball

“I think every program has really beneficial things to make it good, and then every program has challenges,” Christian said. “They’re very similar. We play in a very competitive league, but a league where every single team has had a run. When you look down the roster of this league, everybody has won at some particular point. Not every league can say that. I coached in the MAC for a long time, not every team in the MAC can say they’ve won recently.”

Between his head coaching jobs, he returned to Kent State in what was officially an administrative role. He sat on head coach Rob Senderoff’s bench and, for all intents and purposes, was an additional assistant coach while searching for another head coaching opportunity.

“This process here was the first time I’ve ever been able to come up to a campus. This was the first time I’ve been able to meet people [I’m] going to work with,” Christian said. “Getting to have dinner with the president [Steve Stoute] and seeing all the things on campus, seeing the intimacy of the school. You don’t have to be on this campus very long to understand that this is a family-type atmosphere.”

Several Canisius players attended Thursday’s press conference, including star forward Frank Mitchell, forward Xzavier Long, who did not play in the 2023-24 season but was a key piece in 2022-23, and Siem Uijtendaal, who was the team’s second-leading scorer this past campaign.

Christian said he would work with all of the players still on the roster to determine if he is the right coach for them. If they are, he wants to continue to coach them, or he will help them find opportunities in the transfer portal.

“Just give me the opportunity to show you what the program is going to be about and how we’re going to do things and the standard and how you’re going to be held accountable,” Christian said. “If it’s for you, great, let’s get going. If it’s not, there’s a different spot on your journey, I’ll help you any way I can. That’s what we’re in.”

He does this while acknowledging that the landscape of college basketball has changed in the 19 years he has spent as a head coach.

“Like everybody else, you have to adapt. This is what’s here,” he said. “It’s not going anywhere. It’s not going to change. Whether you like it or don’t like it, you better deal with what’s happening. The recruiting cycle is never going to end, you have to be willing to do that.”

As part of that, Canisius athletic director Bill Maher said Thursday that program supporters are introducing an NIL collective next week, which will be based on player retention. Maher said the plan has been in the works for about a year as part of raising funds for the basketball program. Another part of that was playing a second “buy game” last season.

Maher said that they received between 100 and 120 applications for the head coaching job. Around 25 received phone interviews, which was whittled down to about a dozen Zoom interviews. According to News 4 sources, the school had three candidates on campus: Christian, George Mason assistant Steve Curran and Clemson assistant coach Billy Donlon. Donlon took himself out of the running for the job following the campus visit.

“Asking people about Jim throughout the process, [interest] just continued to rise,” Maher said. “Because of the things that he’s done, the type of person he is, the reputation he has in the industry, that continued to be positive checkmarks all along the way.”

Christian replaces Reggie Witherspoon, whose contract was not renewed after eight seasons with the program. Witherspoon finished with a record of 108-130.

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Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.

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