11 May 2011
At some point, the thought of Jamie Dixon leaving Pitt may become absurd.
No one would ever suggest Coach K would leave Duke or Jim Boeheim would leave Syracuse or "that one football coach" would ever leave "that one school" in the middle of the state. Much like no one doubted that Bobby Bowden or Gary Williams would leave their respective programs until it became time to hang it up.
He's only been in the alpha dog in Oakland eight seasons - a pup compared to the above names - but in that time it seems like the Southern Cal native has grown immensely attached to Pitt and Pittsburgh as a whole. Exhibit A: a segment on The Fan this morning taped during last night's "Century of Change" event honoring Pitt's African American athletes. Notice the small things, like how he referred to his boss Steve Pederson as "Steve." Like how he used "we" to refer to Pitt, even though the Pitt he was describing was pre-World War II. Like how damn genuine he sounds as he gushes about it all.
It seems like a match made in heaven. Dixon is well-paid and successful at a high major program in what is regarded as the best conference in the country. Pitt gets a coach who has earned the respect of his superiors for consistently winning while keeping the program out of the police beat and from under the magnifying glass of NCAA investigators . Surely, he's earned some chits to cash in if there's ever a down year or two, and in the volitile world of college coaching, those are rare.
And that match is why I don't think Dixon will ever leave Oakland.
Of course, there will always be rumors. The Maryland rumors were addressed in The Fan interview. Dixon, to his credit, departed from the coachspeak and really gave an honest assessment of last weekend:
Yeah, I mean I kind of laugh at them now, all the things that get talked about, but I think it's just a compliment to the University of Pittsburgh if those rumors are out there and schools call. Like I said with our assistant coaches that continue to get head jobs - they're hiring a coach from the University of Pittsburgh. When they go to the press conference, no one knows who the guys is, but they're saying 'the assistant from the University of Pittsburgh.' And they want to hire someone who comes from a great academic school - that's what presidents are looking for and athletic directors are looking for - and they want to hire someone from a successful basketball program that's represented the University in the way that they want to be represented. And so I think it's a compliment to the University of Pittsburgh and that's how I look at it.
So it doesn't really bother me, I don't give it much thought and I just kind of brush it off. This one was different because everybody knew about my connection to the athletic director and how close he is with our family. We talk all the time so I understand, but we'll be friends for a long time. Maryland got a great coach in Mark Tuergen, a good friend of mine and a great coach so that's exciting for them.
And speaking of assistants, Andy Katz lists why being Dixon's number two is one of the best gigs in the game:
The most coveted assistant coaching job in the Big East might be on Jamie Dixon's staff at Pitt.
"Why wouldn't an administration want a coach who works for him?" [Towson HC Pat] Skerry said of Dixon. "He's incredibly focused. He's incredibly consistent. The way [his teams] play, he gives a team a chance to win every night. The focus is on defense, rebounding."
[Marshall HC Tom] Herrion was on Dixon's bench when the Panthers lost to Villanova on a last-second basket in the 2009 Elite Eight. He coached Marshall to a 22-12 record in his first season with the Thundering Herd.
"I believe that people across the country truly appreciate and respect the level of success that Jamie and the Pitt program have established and, more importantly, the integrity with which Jamie lives and coaches," Herrion said.
[Rutgers HC Mike] Rice, who is recruiting well at Rutgers and just secured transfer Wally Judge from Kansas State, said "everyone wants to copy the success Pitt has had."
"Jamie does it right on and off the floor, and everyone wants to emulate what he has created," Rice said. "The quickest way to do that is by hiring his assistants. I never thought I'd be there one year. But I jumped at the chance to go to Robert Morris in my hometown. He's consistent with who he's hired. He has an eye for talent."
Dixon has the Midas touch for assistants. That's partially attributable to success of the program and partly attributable selecting the right guys. There haven't been any shady hirings like have been the case elsewhere. Dixon's success has enabled him to recruit up-and-comers who will come to Pitt and then move on to begin their own journeys as head coaches. He selects quality assistants and then they get the powerful "Jamie Dixon approved" label. And as Dixon put it well in the interview, no Towson fan knew who Pat Skerry was. No Marshall fan knew of Tom Herrion. But those guys were winners - they coached with Dixon at Pitt.
From the university, the focus has been on building a powerhouse program from the ground up. There's been patience from the University even though there is some ludacris notions on the outside that the program is stalled out in regular season greatness and post-season mediocricy. But there's been no panic from Pitt. And for that patience and "hands-off" approach, Dixon has rewarded Pitt with a top program that will make a Final Four one day is now an annual contender for the Big East crown.
That's why everyone wants him. Sometimes we can't see it because we're just looking so close. Maybe Ashton needed more of a rest down the stretch. Maybe the young guys needed more minutes. Maybe they needed more of a "true" point guard. Maybe recruiting hasn't been on the same "elite" level as the program.
But other people can see it. And many of those people are athletic directors.
It seems like Dixon's constant resistance to overtures from other programs have finally caught some attention. The Beaver County Times did a piece on how Dixon and local son Sean Miller will continue to get mentioned whenever a job opens and how that's just a sign of success in the ESPN/Internet era. CBS's Gary Parrish has a similar take:
Long story short, Dixon never was going to Maryland -- just like he was never going to Missouri when it once pursued him, Arizona State when it once pursued him, Oklahoma State when it once pursued him, California when it once pursued him, Oregon when it once pursued him, Arizona when it once pursued him or North Carolina State when it once pursued him.
Also worth noting: Dixon was never going to Tennessee even though he was reportedly on the school's list of candidates in March. And if you're a fan of some other school that has had an opening over the past four years, he was never going to your school, either.
And yet the pursuit never stops.
It seems no athletic director at a high-major institution embarking on a coaching search can move forward without first gauging the interest of Dixon. On one hand, I get it, because the guy is terrific at his job, better than I am at my job and almost certainly better than you are at yours. He has averaged 27 wins per season in eight years at Pittsburgh and made the NCAA tournament every March.
Nobody whispers about his character or recruiting practices. He has been great with NBA prospects and great without them. The worst thing anybody can say about Dixon is that he has never made the Final Four. But that criticism is a classic example of not being able to see the forest for the trees, and it's one that'll be taken off the table at some point, anyway.
So, again, I get why a school would want to hire Dixon.
But he can't be hired.
So stop trying.
(Interesting aside: add USC to the above list (who he turned down twice) and Dixon has been sought by 50% of the Pac-10. Think about that. Half of the entire conference wanted Dixon at some point. And I think it's fair to guess there others in the Pacific Northwest who probably would have went after him if they thought they could realistically get him. Amazing.)
So yes, the rumors of Dixon leaving Pitt will continue to surface April after April. And yes, there's a chance he might get the itch to try his luck somewhere else, whether at a royalty program like Duke or Kansas or just some other place away from Western Pennsylvania. But as of right now, I don't see it. He has a good thing going here. Barring some drastic change either at Pitt or in the conference or in the NCAA as a whole, I think Dixon is our guy. Maybe even until he retires.
But until then, the rumors will keep coming, even the absurd:
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