Farewell to a Fantastic Coach

This will be me sending Jamie Dixon off the way I think he deserves and wondering how Pitt will replace him.

I understand Dixon had become a polarizing figure over the last handful of years, and that there seems to be a sizable faction of the fan base that has been ready to see him fired for a while.

I’m not in that faction of the fan base, and the way all of this played out is completely different that I expected.

All along, it seemed like we were debating whether or not Pitt should fire Dixon. All along, in my opinion, the answer appeared to clearly be: “no.” I didn’t think Dixon was doing nearly as bad of a job running this program as some seemed to think. I didn’t think athletic director Scott Barnes wanted to unload a coach every other AD in the country would covet in his first year on the job.

And I certainly didn’t think Jamie Dixon wanted out.

But he did. Or, at least, he got the opportunity to leave, and he took it.

Dixon has left for his alma mater of TCU, and I can’t blame him for going. It’s just like Paul Chryst heading to Wisconsin. These guys have an affinity for their old stomping grounds, and who are we to tell them they’re crazy for wanting to go there?

TCU got one hell of a ball coach, and I’ll remember Dixon as just that. You can remember him however you want. That’s the beauty of our podcast. We’re not going to tell you what to think. We’ll tell you what we think. None of us are right or wrong, for the most part.

Dixon won nearly 75 percent of the games he coached since 2003.

He turned Pitt into a dominant program in the best basketball conference (the Big East) in maybe the history of college basketball.

He won two Big East regular season titles.

He turned Madison Square Garden into “Pittsburgh East” and captivated us with Big East Tournament runs.

He won the 2008 Big East Tournament.

He coached players like Brandin Knight, LeVance Fields, Carl Krauser, Sam Young and DeJuan Blair — players that captivated us with their tough and electric style of basketball — just to name a few.

He turned the Petersen Events Center into the place that top-10 teams go to die. His teams cultivated an atmosphere here that goes unmatched, save for a few, across this nation.

He was a national coach of the year award winner multiple times and went to the NCAA Tournament regularly.

He was seconds away from a Final Four appearance.

And that last point right there is something of interest to me, as it seems expectations with this job have now become just that: reach the Final Four.

There’s nothing wrong with that. We all should aim high. We all want our team to be as successful as possible.

But damn… That’s one hell of a high bar for the next coach to reach.

Jamie Dixon never got to the Final Four, but boy was he close. He regularly had this team in the NCAA Tournament, with a chance to get there. There’s something to be said for that.

He had his flaws, and I always acknowledged that.

Over-coaching? Sure, he was guilty of that at times. Timeouts after baskets and curious substitutions happened.

Recruiting failures? Definitely, and this was my biggest criticism. The team these last few years was a product of multiple failed years of recruiting.

I did think, though, that forcing tweaks to the coaching staff with an emphasis on assistants that were energetic recruiters could fix things quickly. I still think that.

Had Dixon stayed at Pitt, I think there was certainly still a great possibility Pitt would climb back into their familiar spot as a national powerhouse. Now, I’m not so sure.

I have all the confidence in the world in Barnes and chancellor Patrick Gallagher. They certainly nailed it with hiring Pat Narduzzi on the football side of things.

But Narduzzi replaced a program mired in half a decade of .500 football.

The next Pitt basketball coach will be trying to improve on the work of a legend at Pitt.

That’s not so easy to do. And it’s exactly what Dixon was here at Pitt.

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