KENT: Kent State’s Rob Senderoff and Ohio’s Jim Christian have spoken virtually daily for at least the past 15 years of their 19-year friendship.
The hectic schedules of their basketball coaching profession makes such communication “crazy” enough, as Senderoff deemed it last week. But those sometimes late-night or early morning conversations have gone far beyond the frustrations of a game or a season.
They’ve been each other’s cheerleaders and confessors through their most trying times, including Christian’s divorce and Senderoff’s NCAA-imposed exile from Indiana.
They’ve been confidants when others considered them “The Untouchables.”
“When I had my situation at Indiana when I was out of coaching, there’s a lot of people you’re friends with who sort of forget who you are,” Senderoff said. “Jim and I spoke every day then as well. Our friendship’s endured a lot.”
That’s what made the Bobcats’ 69-68 victory over the Golden Flashes on Saturday night at the M.A.C. Center so difficult. Christian, who took over at Ohio in April after spending the previous four seasons at Texas Christian, returned to the university that gave him his first head coaching job in 2002. To the school where the best man at Christian’s wedding is the coach, and four of its assistants, including the director of basketball operations, played for him. Christian was a groomsman in Senderoff’s wedding; Senderoff was there for the birth of Christian’s first daughter.
Christian was out of his element on the visitor’s side, forced to asked directions to the locker room when the Bobcats arrived. Before tipoff, there were hugs all around.
“That was harder than I thought,” Christian said afterward. “Not the game, seeing all those guys.”
When he arrived in the interview room, Senderoff couldn’t bring himself to discuss the personal part of the matchup.
Senderoff, 39, and Christian, 47, met in 1995, when Senderoff was a graduate assistant at Miami University and Christian arrived as an assistant under Herb Sendek. They both hailed from New York — Christian from Bethpage, Senderoff from Spring Valley.
Christian said they clicked immediately.
“Rob is opinionated. He doesn’t care if he’s a graduate assistant, he’s going to tell you what he thinks,” Christian said by phone last week. “That’s probably the New York in him. That’s one of the things I love about him. That’s why he’s really good at what he does.
“Every decision I made from that point forward … Rob was always a guy who told me the truth, not what I needed to hear. Every area of my life, he’s been that constant guy for me. It’s a special friendship, something I really treasure.”
One of the things Senderoff alternately loves and hates about Christian is that he doesn’t like going anywhere alone, whether it’s to lunch or to the ATM. So when Christian headed out on scouting or recruiting trips for the RedHawks, he invited Senderoff to ride along. Eager to learn, Senderoff always jumped at the chance.
Christian left Miami for Pittsburgh in 1996, then became an assistant at KSU in 2001. Starting in 1997, Senderoff made stops at Fordham, Yale and Towson. When Christian got the KSU job after Stan Heath left for Arkansas, Senderoff was the first person Christian called.
That staff also included Geno Ford, the ex-KSU coach now at Bradley; Rob Murphy, now coach at Eastern Michigan; and Ryan Pedon, an assistant at Toledo.
“It was like Comedy Central in there at times,” Christian said. “You’d better be on your toes because guys would make fun of every single thing you do. Most of the jokes were about me.”
Senderoff said when Christian got into one of his “moods,” he and Ford would boycott going to lunch with him. They once froze him out on a bus trip to Missouri State, because Christian was being so hard on them about the previous game. Senderoff said he pretended to read a book for the whole trip, while Ford immediately put on headphones.
“From March through October, there’s probably not a greater person in the world to be around than Jim,” Senderoff said. “From October through March, every day feels like a month. I’ve been told he’s softened up a little bit since he’s had children with Patty.”
Christian said his family and the Senderoffs have never been on vacation together, which would be more likely to happen with Senderoff and Ford.
“In this business when you get free time, you usually spend it with your family,” Christian said. “I think our wives would go nuts if we went on vacation together because we’d be talking basketball the whole time.”
Their lunches have now graduated into dinners when they attend events together. Christian said he could walk into any restaurant and order for Senderoff.
“He’s a picky, picky eater,” Christian said. “When he orders something it stands out for a long time in your mind.”
Explained Senderoff, “I like everything plain.”
One of the evenings Senderoff looks forward to each year is at the Final Four, when Christian buys dinner at a nice steakhouse for everyone who has worked for him. The occasion precipitated a bet on Saturday’s game, which Senderoff said he made when the Bobcats hired Christian.
“I said, ‘If we beat you, I’ll let you off the hook, I’ll order a salad,’ ” Senderoff said. “If you beat us, I’m ordering the two most expensive things on the menu.’ ”
As disappointed as Senderoff was after the Golden Flashes lost another heartbreaker, he will surely send some barbs Christian’s way as he peruses the menu in Atlanta. Christian’s credit card could be dented by a filet and lobster combo.
Hold the bearnaise, of course.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.