Last Week, after yet another disappointing early NCAA Tournament exit by the Pitt Panthers basketball team as they fell 47-43 to the Wisconsin Badgers the talk started, mostly from the fans that they wanted to see longtime head coach Jaime Dixon fired, that his game plan no longer worked for what had been known as one of the more successful basketball programs in the nation-except they haven’t been so successful lately.
I was even asked last week did I think Pitt was going to fire Dixon, and I quickly replied ‘No.’ Like the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Panthers basketball team does not fire head coaches. They didn’t fire Dixon’s assistant Ben Howland in 2003 (He left for UCLA, his dream job), as unsuccessful as Ralph Willard was, even he wasn’t fired (He left for Holy Cross, his dream job) and to be honest, Pitt didn’t technically didn’t fire Paul Evans in 1993, his contract just wasn’t renewed.
So if those former Pitt Head Coaches didn’t get fired, then there was no way Dixon was going to get fired. In fact, I figured the only way that Dixon would depart from Patties if he chose to depart from Pitt. (Especially after just extending his contract making him the highest paid Pitt employee-ever. Oh-and they included a buyout worth $10 million.)
And what was ‘figured’ actually came true Monday March 21st, 2016 as Pitt Athletic Director Scott Barnes announced that Dixon was indeed leaving Pitt to coach his alma mater Texas Christian University (TCU).
“On behalf of the University of Pittsburgh, I want to thank Jamie for his tremendous service to not only Pitt basketball but our entire institution. His impact on our university went well beyond his coaching responsibilities. Jamie has always represented Pitt, and the game of college basketball, in exceptional fashion. For all of these things we are eternally grateful.”
“In recent weeks, Jamie and I engaged in a number of conversations regarding his long-term personal and professional aspirations. In accepting the job at TCU he is, in many ways, returning home. We all wish him and his family the very best in his new endeavor.”
Every head coach wants to get that opportunity to coach at the school they played their particular sport. Like Willard, like Howland, like Paul Chryst in Football (Wisconsin) and now Dixon. There’s no place like ‘home.’
It’s hard to believe that Dixon’s only head coaching job was a Pitt-a testament of not only how long he coached here, but also how successful he was, and admit it or not, he was very successful.
In his 13 years as Pitt head coach, Dixon led the Panthers to 11 NCAA Tournaments. He finished his Pitt tenure with a 328-123 record (.727). That also included the historic 2008-09 season in which he led the Panthers to their first-ever #1 Top 25 ranking and a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. He also led Pitt to their first Elite Eight in Big Dance that year, just missing the Final Four in a crushing loss to Villanova. He also led Pitt to another #1 NCAA Tournament seed in 2011.
In 2009 Dixon was the head coach for the FIBA Under-19 2009 gold-medal winning United States national basketball team for which he was named the 2009 USA Basketball National Coach of the Year. Dixon was named Big East Coach of the Year in 2004, Naismith College Coach of the Year in 2009, Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year in 2010, and the Sporting News National Coach of the Year award in 2011.
He won 188 games in his first seven seasons, tying the NCAA Division I record for most wins in the first seven seasons of a head coaching career. Previously, Dixon’s 162nd win, which came in the 2009 NCAA Tournament over Oklahoma State, broke the NCAA Division I record for most victories in the first six seasons as a head coach formerly held by former North Carolina State coach Everett Case.
He also coached 7 future NBA Players (Steven Adams (12th overall pick of 2013 NBA Draft, Sam Young (36th overall pick of 2009 NBA Draft), DeJuan Blair (37th overall pick of 2009 NBA Draft), Aaron Gray (49th overall pick of 2007 NBA Draft), Chris Taft (42nd overall pick of 2005 NBA Draft), Brandin Knight (Assistant coach under Dixon), Lamar Patterson (48th overall pick of 2014 NBA Draft).
He was a good coach for Pitt. But unfortunately he wasn’t as good as years past as his teams had only won just three NCAA tournament games in the past six seasons, missing the tournament twice in that span. A move from the Big East Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013 has been challenging. And when his alma mater called, he answered. And although Pitt didn’t throw him out of the door, they did hold the door open for him.
Pittsburgh AD Scott Barnes says the school “softened” Dixon’s buyout, helping him move to TCU. ““He felt there was a small window of opportunity,” Barnes said. “Jamie’s head and heart was moving toward TCU.”
Dixon played at TCU from 1984-87. TCU fired coach Trent Johnson last week after the team finished 12-21, including 2-16 in Big 12 play. So unlike when he took over at Pitt for Howland, Dixon will have a reclamation project waiting for him at TCU.
But Pitt also sees this as an opportunity to move on ““A new era in Pitt basketball begins, earnestly,” Barnes said.
Barnes didn’t mention any possible names to replace Dixon yet, but he did say this ““If you’re an AD worth your salt, you better have a list of candidates in your pocket,” he said. “This is a fantastic job. I think it is viewed that way by coaches around the country. We have an opportunity to revitalize, get better.” Barnes said he is looking for a coach who also is a noted recruiter. “We’re looking for a guy that can absolutely recruit his tail off,” he said.
Like the class act that he is, Dixon also met with his players before the big announcement. He also spoke to the recruits as well. He knew when his time was up and Pitt also knew when it was time to move on. Needless to say, the 2016-17 season will be an interesting one for both.
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