When Trent Johnson stood in TCU’s Four Sevens Meeting Room in April, he looked out over a crowd of media, players, and fans.
Everyone in the room knew how tough of a job Johnson had just accepted.
And everyone wondered if he knew.
His predecessors Jim Christian and the late Neil Dougherty walked into a job at which they expected success to come more quickly.
By the time they realized the difficulty of the position they had taken, time was already winding down on their tenures at TCU.
Christian inherited a program in turmoil, and he placed the program back on a solid foundation.
Christian found moderate success in his final year at TCU, but knowing of the impending conference change and watching his two leading scorers graduate, Christian decided to return to his roots.
He took over an Ohio program coming off a Sweet 16 appearance, and every key player would be back for the Bobcats. Jim Christian took over at his wife’s alma mater, and he returned to the conference where he was already its all-time leader in wins.
And in came Trent Johnson.
Johnson, a three-time conference coach of the year from his previous stops, had turned around programs before.
He had sent nearly a dozen players to the NBA in his career.
His schemes, proven to work. His assistants, proven recruiters.
Johnson took over a program over a decade removed from the postseason, a program with an aging relic of an arena, and a program entering one of the nation’s top athletic conferences thanks to the success of its schools football program.
Johnson immediately made a splash on the recruiting trail bringing in the likes of Brandon Parrish, Karviar Shepherd, and Michael Williams.
His staff prepared to go to battle with an admittedly undertalented squad by Big 12 standards, but a squad that at full strength had hopes of overachieving.
Before the season at tipped off, Johnson lost his seven foot center to an ACL injury that occurred in a non-contact drill in practice.
Just 12 seconds into its third game against cross-town rival SMU, Johnson lost the player whom he believed was destined to be a star, Amric Fields.
Fields, whom Johnson had called one of the most talented players he’d ever coached, had his knee buckle on a shuffle cut.
Not even a month later, Johnson lost one of the season’s most improved players: Jarvis Ray.
Ray, out 6-8 weeks, seemed to have made significant strides under Johnson and was a starter for much of the season.
It doesn’t make sense, Johnson would say.
Why do young kids who have worked so hard go down with such devastating injuries?
There is no easy answer. Johnson appeared to tear up when discussing Fields’ injury after the SMU game. Such a display is indicative of the high character coach that Johnson is.
?He cares for his players, and his players know he has their backs.
However, programs like Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, or Texas do not care about injuries or a team’s travails.
The Frogs will head into Big 12 team with only four scholarship players in the back court. Johnson will be forced to start a freshman or a walk-on at the shooting guard position as Nate Butler Lind and Connell Crossland man the small forward position.
Kyan Anderson is the only consistent scorer in the back court, and little depth backs up centers Adrick McKinney and DeVonta Abron.
And so the trial by fire begins.
Trent Johnson may have known the task was going to be arduous, but now the 56 year old head coach is going to have to earn his paycheck.
Freshmen Charles Hill and Clyde Smith III will both be forced to play considerably more minutes that Johnson may have liked.
Walk on guard Thomas Montigel and Chris Zurcher will be forced to play minutes as well.
Johnson could get some relief from Brown transfer Christian Gore who will be eligible in January. The El-Paso native averaged 2.5 points and 1 rebound in 12 games for the Bears.
TCU begins Big 12 play on January 5th against Texas Tech. When the Frogs take on the Red Raiders at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, the oddsmakers will say that game will be the Frogs best chance at a Big 12 win.
Johnson will need to turn in one of the best coaching jobs of his career getting his team to believe they can compete.
TCU has a coach that the fans can believe in fully, but Johnson and company have a long second half of the season ahead of them.