Reflecting on Christian’s departure

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June 25, 2011

2:05 PM

A couple of years ago, I wrote a profile of the William and Mary men’s basketball program and the financial challenges it faced. A couple weeks after it was published, I ran into assistant coach Jamion Christian at a William and Mary baseball game.

“It was a pretty good article,” Christian said. “Except you got my salary wrong. You said I make $50,000, but I make $50,000 plus the use of a car.”

I started to apologize but Christian just laughed.

“It’s alright man,” he said. “It works out better for me this way.”

I thought back to this exchange when I learned Thursday that Christian had accepted an assistant coaching position at Virginia Commonwealth. The move seemed surprising at first. Christian is leaving William and Mary for a similar position at a fellow CAA school. Not only that, but he also leaves right before the crucial summer recruiting period which starts July 6th and lasts until July 15th.

But the truth is the move makes sense for Christian for a variety of reasons, certainly chief among them being salary.

According to collegiatetimes.com, Christian made $50,000 last season as the lowest paid assistant on the William and Mary coaching staff. Although William and Mary has made noticeable strides in coaching compensation, (most notably Tony Shaver’s salary was bumped to $205,000 in 2011 after making $180,000 in 2010) the combined salary of its three assistant coaches was $164,000 last season.

By comparison, Virginia Commonwealth paid its three assistants $305,000 in 2011, a figure that was reportedly increased by $150,000 after the Rams’ Final Four appearance this spring. By moving to Virginia Commonwealth, Christian should see a salary bump of somewhere close to $40,000 or, to put it in other terms, Christian should receive almost an 80 percent raise.

Christian’s loss will be felt hardest in William and Mary’s recruiting efforts. Over the last three years, Christian has been William and Mary’s lead recruiter in the Mid-Atlantic region. He also played a major role in the recruiting of Brandon Britt, Kyle Gaillard and incoming 2011 guard Marcus Thornton.

While a source close to the program confirms that Thornton has no plans to follow Christian to Virginia Commonwealth, Christian’s departure means William and Mary will lose its main recruiter in Maryland and Virginia. Conversely, Virginia Commonwealth adds an assistant with strong ties in the Mid-Atlantic, especially with AAU programs such as East Coast Fusion, Boo Williams and DC Assault.

As far as X’s and O’s are concerned, Christian’s loss is not as significant. In his three years at William and Mary, Christian’s main focus was on the defensive side of the court as well as the development of William and Mary’s post players. While Christian certainly can claim some achievements in those areas, most notably in the implementation and execution of William and Mary’s matchup zone defense, neither post play nor defense has been a calling card of recent William and Mary teams. William and Mary’s offensive architect, assistant coach Ben Wilkins, remains on the staff, as does assistant coach Jonathan Holmes.

As far as my personal opinion is concerned, Christian’s move raises a couple of interesting issues, the first being that he will now be coaching for the next four years against players he helped recruit. Normally, you don’t see assistant coaches take jobs at schools in the same conference as their previous school, unless they are let go, precisely for that reason. But two factors make this move more understandable.

The first, obviously, is the money. Rarely ever will I begrudge somebody for earning an 80 percent raise. The second is the quality of the Virginia Commonwealth job. The Rams’ Final Four run, combined with head coach Shaka Smart’s new $1.2 million dollar contract, makes clear that Virginia Commonwealth plans on being one of the premier teams in the Mid-Atlantic region. Like it or not, VCU has six NCAA tournament victories in the last five years, more than any other team in Virginia or Maryland over that same period.

Virginia Commonwealth’s place in the CAA as well as its recent success allows its coaches to recruit a different caliber of player than William and Mary. Thus its assistants can build establish relationships with higher profile high school and AAU programs, the type of relationships that look very good on a potential head coach’s resume. If Christian wants to be a head coach, (and remember he interviewed for the Mount Saint Mary’s head coaching position last summer) then moving to the Virginia Commonwealth bench is a good career move.

As far as William and Mary is concerned, this type of loss is expected when hiring young and talented assistant coaches. Talking to Tony Shaver and Terry Driscoll for that piece two years ago, neither expected to keep all three assistants in Williamsburg forever. William and Mary should be fine this season as it loses no major recruits and keeps Wilkins, one of the top assistants in the CAA according to a poll conducted by Fox Sports’ Jeff Goodman, in the fold.

The most pressing issue will be finding an assistant who can recruit Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. A big reason for William and Mary’s struggles last season was the recruiting turnover the Tribe experienced after its successful 2007 season. Assistants Dee Vick and Antwon Jackson left after the 2007 season, leaving Wilkins as the only assistant on the staff. Not only did the changeover affect the then-present makeup of the team (guard John Sexton and forward Vali Lazarescu later transferred), but it also put William and Mary behind as far as its 2009 recruiting class.

Christian’s departure should not have been surprising for Shaver and William and Mary. But it is important that the Tribe find a good recruiter, and fast, in order to stay ahead of the game as far as locking down its 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes.

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