March 19, 2007

There’s no way the media can stay away from the Dixon-Howland storyline. It’s just too juicy and sits there waiting for them. Tempting them. We’ll be seeing this storyline all the way through Friday (yes, I know the game is on Thursday, but there is still post-game stuff).

UCLA Coach Ben Howland says he’s happy that Pitt and Dixon has advanced even if he never wants to coach against his friend.

“It’s business,” Howland said of the matchup against Dixon and Pitt. “And, really, in reality, I’m happy because that means that they won two and we won two. Obviously, I want to win the game. That’s first and foremost. (But) if I had to lose to anyone in the world it would be Jamie Dixon and the Pitt Panthers.

“But we’re not going in thinking like that. We expect to win.”

So the choice for most writers, get it out there now or wait until later in the week.

Howland and Dixon, who remain close friends and speak on a regular basis, said the only way they would play each other is in the NCAA tournament. Dixon downplayed the opportunity to play his mentor after Pitt beat Virginia Commonwealth, 84-79, in overtime Saturday night, but his players know he is looking forward to getting the chance to play Howland and the Bruins.

“I think coach Dixon is looking forward to it,” Pitt junior Mike Cook said. “He may seem like he’s cool about it, but he’s excited.”

In an interview a month ago with the Post-Gazette, Dixon revealed that one of the reasons Howland left Pitt was because he didn’t feel like he could sustain the success he had attained during his four seasons as coach. He felt like he had taken the program as far as it could go.

Dixon made it known that he thought there were greater heights for the program to achieve.

“To be honest, Ben didn’t think we could sustain it,” Dixon said during an interview in his office Feb. 21. “He took less money to go to another job, what most people would consider a better job. I’ve always seen more in [Pitt] than other people did. I have higher expectations than anybody for this job. I know no one thought we could do what we are doing.”

It was a candid moment for Dixon, who had just won his 100th game as Pitt’s coach a night earlier. It was a unique view into the world of Dixon. If that milestone victory did not get him out from under Howland’s shadow, the victory Saturday night surely did.

Gray said he and his teammates are aware that Howland did not believe Pitt could be a successful program in the long run, and said it will serve as some small motivation Thursday.

If you are looking for the original article where that appeared it was here. It isn’t highlighted or sensationalized in the original piece. I have to admit that was not a shock to me. By taking the job at UCLA, wasn’t that what Howland was saying? Simply compare the two programs in terms of natural recruiting areas, population and growth, and history and by comparison it is far easier to sustain a successful program at UCLA than Pitt. There’s also a lot more pressure and expectations — but give Pitt fans a little more time on the latter.

One of the reasons in the last year plus I’ve committed fully to the “Jamie Dixon is the best coach for Pitt” camp is the stuff he’s been doing beyond coaching and recruiting — both of which have improved each year. The stuff that is vital for the success now, but let’s be honest the infrastructure in the ‘Burgh is all football. Dixon has worked to help in the organization and formation of summer basketball leagues that have the local college players along with alumni participating — is one of the most tangible examples. It’s even close to Philly or NYC summer basketball leagues right now, but there was no excuse for Pittsburgh not to have one except the lack of support from Pitt coaches and organization. What he is doing outside of the coaching and recruiting is long-term planning and building that can help Pitt basketball more and more in the future.

Dixon, thankfully, has begun to develop some outward personality in public rather than simply speak in monotone and cliche when he first started. He has continually gone out in the community and done the things coaches today have to do. I am really optimistic for Pitt’s future and present with Dixon.
Mike DeCourcy puts Pitt 12th among the Sweet 16.

The one thing lacking in Pitt’s history and the more recent history is a 3d win in the NCAA Tournament. Like we weren’t all bitterly aware of that point.

Howland’s early plan is to not double Aaron Gray.

“We’re going to be left one-on-one with Aaron Gray a lot because he passes so well,” Howland said. “If you double him, he’s so big he passes out of it. That’s going to be the hardest part, trying to take Aaron Gary one-on-one. He’s an NBA player, first-round draft pick. He’s a big-time player.”

Aesthetics were nowhere to be found when the Bruins and Hoosiers played. Both are strong defensive teams, but participants from each team said they missed plenty of open shots.

The Bruins shot 36.2percent from the field, and Indiana checked in at 32.7 percent.

Given UCLA holds its opponents to 42.8 percent from the field, and Pittsburgh limits its opponents to 40.7percent…

According to Pomeroy, Pitt’s Adjusted Offense and Defense are ranked 13th and 26th. UCLA is 24th and 3d.

link to for those interested in the poor ACC and Big 11 crybabies explain away their mediocore/poor? showing at the dance…

Comment by Bill Fralic 03.19.07 @ 4:29 pm

I hope Gray doesn’t have another Georgetown – if they’re guarding him one on one, he’s open…on every play. He better not psyche himself out again. His 1-13 had NOTHING to do with Hibbert, it was all in his head. And if he makes his shots in the first half, it’ll be double team time in the second half, and our guys better step up and burying their open shots.

Also, we should have a big edge in rebounding, IF we don’t get outhustled. We need to fight for every loose ball like it is the last one we’ll ever get. The way this looks is the team with the most possessions wins.

Comment by Stuart 03.19.07 @ 6:50 pm

good call by stuart (i think) when he mentioned this article about howland disparaging pitt. i had never heard of it before. i was always under the impression that he left to go home because hes from there and its his dream job. i didnt hear about the whole ‘this is as far as pitt will go’ thing. i really want to win on thursday now.

Comment by matt 03.19.07 @ 7:20 pm

If it’s true that they will not double Aaron, he must have the game of his life on Thursday … for Pitt and for himself. He’s the one intangible in our favor.

Comment by geeman2001 03.19.07 @ 7:32 pm

Hey guys, UCLA fan here. I’m really exited for this game, but the match up seems tarnished by the unbridled of a few Pitt fans (Mostly Stuart on this board). You think Howland leaving is a knock on your school? He CREATED you. If he mishandled the Marquette game that’s his fault, but being angry at him for leaving is ridiculous. How can you be so spoiled? A guy turns your program into a National Power, then leaves you with a more-than-capable coach and a crop of good players, and you hate him for not staying?

He left for the most storied program in college basketball, which was lying in ruins. UCLA has the MOST demanding fans in the country. People were angry at John Wooden for losing in the Final Four. They demanded Lavin’s departure after a long run of Sweet Sixteens and great recruiting. We have one of the most lackluster fan bases at games in our conference. It is, by no means, a cushy situation. At least respect the guy. I’ve always liked Pitt fans, but what I’ve seen from some people makes me think a bit. Your basketball program lives on at the same level that he put it at. Why hate him? There’s been no drop-off, and he MADE you in the first place.

If Pitt wins Thursday, it will be with HIS player (Gray), HIS protest, and HIS former program. I wouldn’t be knocking the man. It’s called thankfulness.

Comment by Al 03.19.07 @ 9:19 pm

Unbridled Hatred*

Comment by Al 03.19.07 @ 9:19 pm

Al makes some good points. Howland did resurrect the program and left it in good shape to continue to prosper. Personally, what bothered me was that it seemed Howland was biding his time at Pitt until a ‘better’ job came along. I know Howland was never timid about his desire to go back west, but I guess it felt like the last year – only his 4th year – he was looking west much of the time. Maybe that’s a misperception, but I think that’s where some of the anger at Howland comes from.

Howland is a great coach and I am thankful for what he did for the program. Chas made some very good points about Dixon’s work off of the court that I hadn’t thought about that make me appreciate him some more, despite what are still some shortcomings in his game-time coaching (which has definitely improved over the past 5-6 games).

Now hopefully we can beat UCLA and use highlights from the tape with top recruits to build the program up even further.

Comment by Carmen 03.19.07 @ 9:53 pm

Dude, it’s just old-fashioned sports smack talk. Are you a relative of BH or something? Both those coaches are great friends and making millions. They couldn’t be the least bit fazed by what we say. Why are you so upset?

I’m sure most Pitt fans acknowledge the guy did a fine job here, but he got an opportunity on a national stage here and was well compensated so I think being obligated to be “thankful” is a bit much.

I personally think the stage was set with the planning and emergence of the Pete that Pitt would probably have risen from the depths regardless of the coach. The administration clearly decided to de-emphasize football and throw its weight behind basketball. Although they have made bonehead moves in the past, there are a lot of good coaches out there and we likely would have gotten someone.

Comment by geeman2001 03.19.07 @ 9:57 pm

yo Al, beat it dude.

Comment by scoocher 03.19.07 @ 10:15 pm

UCLA fans arrogance is amusing. Howland “made” Pitt. That’s funny considering the best player from the era, Brandin Knight, wasn’t one of his recruits. He was Willard’s recruit. Now we have to thank Howland for Gray when he never played a minute under him as the head coach. That’s funny. Should we also be thanking Willard?

Comment by Omar 03.19.07 @ 10:16 pm

Al, let’s put some perspective to this. There is not a person in here who does not recognize that Ben Howland is a great coach, that had a great run at Pitt. The other side of that coin is that Pitt DID great things for Ben Howland as well. Basically, Ben Howland was the head coach at Northern Arizona before he came to Pitt (that’s “Northern” Arizona). Pitt and the State of PA built a $120M on campus arena, that many consider to be one of the finest in America. Howland was using drawings of the building to recruit kids! Now Howland is a multi-millionaire living in LA. Does Howland go from Northern Arizona to UCLA…Hell no…So the relationship between Howland and Pitt was mutually beneficial, and no he did not “create” Pitt basketball. He and a $120M building resurrected the program. Now as to why so many Pitt fans detest the man (myself included), for me it’s because he is the B-Ball equivalent of Nick Saban. Howland looked right into the TV cameras weeks before his departure and stated that he was not going anywhere. He had just signed an extension to his contract a year before he left. All the while, he was already negotiating his exist…Never bothering to give the people who were paying him his six-figure salary a nod…Nor did your no-class AD at UCLA extend the courtesy to our AD of asking to speak with Howland…Nor did Howland ever address his situation with his players, those guys that would have went through a brick wall for their multi-millionaire coach. Many would argue with you that it was Knight, Page, Brown, Troutman and even Zevakas (?) that punched Howland’s ticket to UCLA…How did your head coach thank those players? By taking a private jet to LA and not coming back! I’ll say again, he is a great coach, so is Nick Saban. But, like Saban, Howland is an arrogant, pompous Jackass!

Comment by HbgFrank 03.19.07 @ 10:36 pm

Really like the matchup with UCLA. We rebound slightly better, shoot marginally better on the foul line, take better care of the basketball(on our assist/ turnover ratio) and shoot better from 3 pt range. Moreover, we have been very effective in running our offense the first two games of the tournament–and playing VCU should prepare us for any pressure we will face from UCLA. How ironic to get to the elite 8 over the team that was #1 in the country 2 weeks ago–compared to just missing against overachieving Kent State and Marquette.

Comment by tph60 03.19.07 @ 10:39 pm

Hey Weird Al.

Go back to Lynnwood! We don’t need or want your UCLA biased opinion.

But since you asked.

Ben Howland can smoke my pole. I’m not going to thank an ex-employee who really didn’t want to be here in the first place for leaving when as soon as he had the chance. He used our school as a way to showcase his talents (he is a good coach) and knew he was leaving when he was coaching Pitt vs. D Wade and the Golden Showers or whatever they called themselves in 2003. He had to have that in the back of his mind during that run that year.

Furthermore Gray who can dominate is far from our WHOLE team. Pitt has nine guys that get a lot of minutes every game. We have won with Gray on the bench and with him in the can for a large part of the game on Saturday. The only guys that were here when Howland was here were Gray and Kendall and Dixon brought in Kendall. This is Dixons Team and we are still in this thing we see if you can say the same on Friday morning.

Now go away or I shall taught you a second time!

Comment by Tony in Harrisburg 03.19.07 @ 11:23 pm

Well said HbgFrank.

Comment by scoocher 03.20.07 @ 12:05 am

Fans are always going to be bitter about a coach leaving for somewhere else right when the fans feel their team is on the “cusp”.

No fan base wants their school to be viewed as a “stepping stone” for good coaches, and rightly so.

Hell, just look at the Idaho football program. That school changes coaches every few years now. Each new coach comes in with the same BS speech about “dedication” and “loyalty”, and then high tails it to a larger school and paycheck when the timing is right.

I don’t harbor any hatred towards Ben Howland for his decision. Our program was left in great hands with Jamie Dixon. However…the circumstances surrounding Howlands departure are disconcerting, and I wish someone who did so much for our program could of left on more honest terms.

Regardless, we will get to see on thursday night whether Pitt Basketball can finally get over the hump or not. I personally cannot wait for this game.

Lets go Pitt!!!

Comment by Ryan M 03.20.07 @ 12:05 am

Ryan, that’s the point. A job is not a prison term-you can leave whenever you want..just how he left. We treated him great and did not warrant that type of treatment.

Comment by scoocher 03.20.07 @ 12:20 am

AL- I was going to respond to your stupidity, but then I read further and realized everything I would say was already written above. So go F yourself.

I sure as hell hope we don’t have fans going over to their weird blog and leaving comments. I’d prefer the UCLA bitches to continue to make asses of themselves over here.

BTW – using an animated picture of Austin Powers to get your “mojo on” is fucking weird – I’d call that…well…I don’t want to insult homosexuals, so I’ll let it go… I’d sure as hell never read, much less post, at any site that did shit like that.

link to

Comment by Stuart 03.20.07 @ 5:43 am

Hey, I got quoted on their blog. Nice! It’s good to see they come over here for some common sense, not just living in their self-deluded worlds.

Comment by Stuart 03.20.07 @ 5:51 am

Honestly, guys, would you really have wanted Howland to (in the middle of Pitt’s tourney run/season/whatever) come clean about the situation? First and foremost, you can’t blame the guy for wanting to come home. I’ll say nothing about UCLA’s historical perch in NCAA lore, only that for so many reasons, leaving Pitt was a good move for him. If there’s a perception in the middle of a season that Pitt has a lame duck coach who’s gone the next year, no real AD, and questions abounding whether he’s going to take Dixon with him, the season is shot! There probably IS no Marquette game to wonder about, no Big East Championship game appearance, or any of that because the season would have fallen apart long before.
In the long run, sometimes a bold faced lie is actually in the best interest of the person you’re lying to. I GUARANTEE you’d all hate Howland if he came out with it in the middle of a season. As it is, he handled it well enough to leave you guys in the position to beat him on the court.

Comment by UCLAkurt 03.20.07 @ 7:49 pm

Is Pitt a three seed if Howland is never Pitt’s coach? Is Jamie Dixon Pitt’s coach if Howland hadn’t been here first? If you think the answer the to either of those questions is yes then you don’t have to thank Howland. If you think both are no, then you should thank Howland for building Pitt into the program it is.

Comment by SuperBruinMan 03.20.07 @ 9:20 pm

If Howland’s best players were Willard’s players does that mean you think that Willard created the program? “UCLA fans arrogance is amusing. Howland “made” Pitt. That’s funny considering the best player from the era, Brandin Knight, wasn’t one of his recruits. He was Willard’s recruit. Now we have to thank Howland for Gray when he never played a minute under him as the head coach. That’s funny. Should we also be thanking Willard?”- I suppose Pitt suddenly became a national power completely independently of the coaches.

Comment by SuperBruinMan 03.20.07 @ 9:23 pm

I also disagree with the assertion that Howland wouldn’t have gone directly from N Arizona to UCLA. With four more years under his belt who knows what kind of program N Arizona would have been, and Howland may have ended up somewhere else in those 4 years, stayed successful and been willing to take his dream job.

Comment by SuperBruinMan 03.20.07 @ 9:28 pm

UCLA fans have no idea of the changes that went on here before Howland even got here. WE DIDN’T EVEN SHOW HIM THE FUCKING BUILDING THEY WERE PLAYING IN AT THE TIME CAUSE WE WERE BUILDING A NEW ONE IN A COUPLE OF YEARS. It’s funny how Pitt, as a university, has a competent administration running it, and is able to pick out talented people and intelligent ideas WELL BEFORE it becomes obvious to the morons of the world (read: UCLA’s administration and fans). IF YOUR UNIVERSITY WAS SO GODDAMN SMART THEY WOULD HAVE HIRED HOWLAND FROM N ARIZONA, NOT WAIT UNTIL IT WAS SO GODDAMN APPARENT TO THE ENTIRE FUCKING WORLD HE WAS A GOOD COACH. Way to be on top of shit. If you morons have your heads stuck so far up your own asses and spend your time telling each other how great you are, maybe you would be able to pick up on a few things a little earlier in life. QUIT COMING TO THIS BOARD AND SCRIBBLING YOUR NONSENSE. Everyone here is now dumber from having read your incoherent babble.

And what is the sense of these morons coming over here and “defending” the “nothing” that Howland did? Tell it to each other, we’re tired of hearing your bullshit.

Comment by Stuart 03.21.07 @ 12:29 am

lol. anger management, stu. honestly.

Comment by UCLAkurt 03.21.07 @ 2:37 pm

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