It’s an interesting move.
Not necessarily good or bad. Not necessarily smart or stupid, either. Just interesting.
Jamie Dixon, 13 years into his men’s basketball head-coaching reign at the University of Pittsburgh and 17 overall at the western Pennsylvania institution, up and bolted Monday to take over at his alma mater, Texas Christian, less than a week after yet another quick exit from the NCAA Tournament.
Sure, it’s easy to grasp the concept of “coming home” and all, to the place where he graduated from and actually stood out as a player back in the mid-1980s. But we’re also talking about going from a perennial postseason program to a long-standing loser, from a middling ACC outfit with the potential for much more to a rag-tag Big 12 one with the potential for who knows.
This might not be the equivalent of Ed DeChellis departing Penn State, his alma mater, and the Big Ten after leading the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA appearance in 10 seasons for the soft landing of Navy and the Patriot League five years ago, but it ain’t that far off, either.
Seriously, what the eff is going on here?
Full disclosure: Never been a big fan of Dixon. He’s racked up a lot of wins while guiding the Panthers to 11 NCAA appearances since 2004, convincing some serious talent to slip on the Blue and Gold along the way, but it always seemed to me that his success was predicated on the foundation laid by Ben Howland during Dixon’s previous four years as his assistant.
Howland brought a toughness, an edge to Pitt basketball, turning a Big East “nothing” into the conference’s elite entity by his fourth season, winning both the regular-season and tournament titles. But back-to-back Sweet 16s weren’t enough to keep him around once his “job of a lifetime” opened up and UCLA came calling in 2003. Two years after his arrival in Westwood, the Bruins, showing that same toughness and edge Howland’s Panthers had, went on a three-year Final Four run.
Dixon hardly faded to black back east, eventually earning an Elite Eight appearance in 2009, but his recruiting touch certainly seemed to trail off in recent years, as did his Panthers’ success.
Apparently, the jump to the ACC in time for the 2013-14 hoops campaign wasn’t the goldmine Pitt officials hoped it would be, and the Panthers, as well as their coach, accordingly dropped a peg or two on the national landscape.
Perhaps Dixon is right, that this move offers him a chance at a fresh start at age 50 … with less pressure to produce wins, postseason appearances while still make some serious coin and being welcomed with open arms in a way that, maybe, he never was at Pitt.
Then again, the Horned Frogs haven’t been to the Big Dance since 1998 and last won an NCAA Tournament game when Dixon was a senior standout in 1987.
Plus, if he thinks things will be a lot easier than they were in the ACC, Kansas, Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia and a whole host of NCAA tourney regulars may provide daily reminders to the contrary.
Hey, even coaches better than Dixon run into buzz saws at times. Just ask Howland, who got dumped by UCLA in 2013 was out of coaching for two years before landing at reclamation project Mississippi State.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
GOOD GIG OR NOT?
With Jamie Dixon taking off for TCU, Pitt has an opening for a head coach.
Thing is, it’s kinda hard to tell if the job will be appealing to candidates the school targets.
Early reports suggested Sean Miller, the sweaty head coach at Arizona who starred as a point guard for Pitt after growing up in nearby Beaver Falls, Pa., Miller’s younger brother Archie, who currently runs the show at Dayton, and Xavier’s Chris Mack.
Frankly, that reads like an oh-for-3 night at the ballpark if Pitt officials take a swing at them.
Unless the “alma mater” bug bites the elder Miller, he ain’t leaving one of the best gigs in the college game to return home, and, frankly, at this point, mid-major Dayton may be a better job than Pitt and Xavier without question is. So it seems unlikely that the younger Miller or Mack would consider such a move.
Of course, coaching in the ACC, the nation’s premier hoops conference, to which Pitt belongs, could be a big enough draw. It did get Buzz Williams to bolt X’s Big East rival Marquette for Virginia Tech.
Or maybe it’s a drawback, considering that Pitt has been a middle of the pack program since joining the circuit three years ago and recording just a 28-26 record in conference play thus far.
Besides, if anything, both Archie Miller and Mack seem in line for better, much better, opportunities should they arise this year or in the near future.
This position seems more fitting an up-and-coming assistant at a major school, or head coach at a mid-major outside of Dayton. Maybe a guy like Saint Mary’s Randy Bennett would head east for a new challenge instead of continuing to bang heads every season with Gonzaga for the one bid the NCAA usually grants the highly underrated West Coast Conference.
A real coup? Rehiring Ben Howland, the guy who set the stage for Dixon’s run of success before leaving for UCLA, would suffice – if Pitt could convince him he’d be better off than remaining at Mississippi State.