BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – The cloud that has hovered over the Indiana University Kokomo basketball team has been lifted as school administrators announced Tom Church was hired as the new head coach of the Cougars men’s basketball program. Church replaces interim head coach Alex Birge. Church is currently ending his four-year reign at NCAA Division II Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, which recently announced it is ceasing operations.
(Editor’s note: Neither Church or IUK administrators were available for comment prior to the Sports Journal deadline.)
Church will be the third coach in IUK history and second on a full-time basis. While he replaces Birge, Jace Thompson coached the first five-plus seasons before suddenly resigning midway through the 2016-2017 campaign. Church takes over a team that was 10-20 this season – it marked the first double-digit win mark in the short six-year history of the Cougars program.
Church was the 18th coach at St. Joseph’s and led the team to a 31-82 mark in his four seasons, but had improved the Pumas record each year. He followed a 4-24 inaugural season with records of 6-22, 9-19 and 12-17 this year while playing in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
Prior to his time at St. Joseph’s, Church spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Florida Southern College (2010-2013) and St. Joe (2007-2010).
During his time as the top assistant coach for Florida Southern, the Moccasins were 70-25 with two Sunshine State Conference Tournament championships (2012 and 2013). The program made three NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, winning the South Regional in 2013 for an Elite Eight appearance.
He had similar success during his time as an assistant at St. Joseph’s – the Pumas held a 53-37 record with two NCAA Division II Tournament appearances in 2008 and 2010. In 2010 the Pumas won the Great Lakes Valley Conference North Division and won three straight games as the eighth seed in the Midwest Regional to advance to the Elite Eight.
According to his official SJC bio, Church attended Ashland University for four years, where he was twice named to the Academic All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Team and was a team captain as a senior in 2003. He started all but one game that year, averaging 8.9 points and 4.3 rebounds, and was second on the team in both three-pointers and three-point shooting percentage (40 for 105). In his collegiate career, Church made 104 three-point field goals and shot 38 percent from behind the arc.
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Education in 2003, and later earned his Master’s of Education in Administration from Ashland in 2006. Church and his wife Jennifer welcomed their first child, Harrison, into the world over the summer of 2015 and have a second child on the way.
IU Kokomo is still working on filling its vacant women’s basketball coaching position.