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February 15, 2016

Dixon Stuck?

Filed under: ACC,Basketball,Dixon — Justin @ 3:37 pm

I had a thought I posted about on twitter that I wanted to elaborate a bit on but I’ll start with a few caveats. First, Jamie Dixon is a great coach and the odds are whenever he’s replaced the new coach probably won’t be on his level. Second, I do not advocate firing Dixon; he has earned the right to try and get this program back to where it was a few years ago.

But, do I think he will turn it around? Doubtful.

My thought is this: coaches, with a few exceptions, have a limit on how long they can succeed in one place. At a certain point, a coach makes a critical mistake he can’t overcome or the situation changes and he can’t adapt enough. He gets stuck in a situation where he can’t figure out what he needs to change to right the ship. For our beloved Jamie Dixon, that situation is likely a combination of recruiting and assistant coaches.

I was talking to a fellow Pitt fan about this and it hit me that Dixon’s struggles right now remind me of Andy Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles. No objective person could deny he’s a great NFL head coach. He has his flaws (notably clock management) but his resume speaks for itself. After a long time with the Eagles, he made a series of mistakes he couldn’t overcome.

I won’t dig into all of those mistakes, but failing to replace the contributions of the late Jim Johnson and Donovan McNabb are the two main culprits. The mistakes snowballed to the point where it didn’t appear as if Reid had a solution. While he’s a great coach, he couldn’t fix the situation and needed a change of scenery. Now with the Chiefs, he led them to their first playoff victory since 1993 in his second season at the helm.

The Eagles went big with their replacement, Chip Kelly, and ended up firing him after only two seasons. Kelly is not as good of a coach as Reid, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Eagles were right to move on from him. They were in a hole and Reid was not the man to dig them out.

As of right now, Dixon is in the 90th percentile of coaches in terms of tenure at one school, 34/351 on this slightly outdated list. In college football, only 3/128 would have a longer tenure (again, outdated list since it includes Beamer, Pinkel, and Richt). NFL? There are only two: Belichick and Marvin Lewis. NBA and MLB each have one. NHL has zero. Dixon is one of the longest tenured coaches in major American sports.

College basketball is the exception with coaches who can succeed over a long period of time, but that doesn’t change the fact that most coaches in any sport eventually hit a rough spot they can’t overcome. Basketball seems to be unique in that regard, but a lot of the coaches with more time at one school than Dixon also don’t have the same level of expectations. Central Connecticut, Presbyterian, Austin Peay, South Dakota State, and numerous others would have no issues with what Pitt has accomplished the past few years. Programs like Duke, ARCHRIVAL ORANGE, Louisville, Michigan State, and UNC are exceptions, not rules.

What does that mean in terms of fixing the problem? I see two solutions:

1) Give Dixon everything he needs to build the program back up until it’s blatantly obvious he’s not the man to do it. If/when it gets to that point, fire him.

2) Lower our expectations for the program.

You shouldn’t fire a great coach while doubt remains. I’d love to see my two year old son in the Oakland Zoo as college student watching a Dixon-led team (I have a hair less than seven months to teach him to chant Penn State sucks). There’s still an opportunity with different assistants and a new recruiting plan that we could be rooting for a Pitt team to make a run in the NCAA tournament instead of hoping to just make it in and maybe win the first game. If in two or three years that still hasn’t happened, we have a choice. Pitt can fire him and likely get an inferior coach to replace him or everyone can lower our expectations.

It’s not an easy decision. As I stated above, I do not advocate firing Dixon at all. There’s still a chance he can get the job done. Give him two or three more years with all of the resources he needs. At that point Scott Barnes will have to decide on whether or not an above-average team is acceptable.

Is an above-average program acceptable to you?

This was said when a team fired a coach who had gone to NCAA’s two straight years.

“The decision was based on the overall performance the past three years,” Wellman said. “I looked at our February and March records and how the performances declined rather dramatically. We were 16-17 in February in those three years and in March 4-7, and 1-6 in postseason play, including the ACC tournament. In six of those losses, we were the higher-seeded team or better seeded in five of those losses. Yet the games weren’t even close.”

Wellman admits at some point he had to ask himself “can that be rectified or should we move in a different direction. I chose to move on.”

That team was Wake Forest 5 years ago….haven’t had one winning record since that time 17-16 and haven’t even made the CBI tourney in same time period.

Comment by milobloom 02.16.16 @ 3:09 pm

good data Reed … Buzz Ridl started 4 and 20 in 68-69 and finished with 25-4 and 18-11 in 73-74 and 74-75. He wasn’t the best coach but was the most important coach at Pitt.

Comment by wbb 02.16.16 @ 3:10 pm

Thanks Reed. So, to summarize, in 109 years Pitt was ranked in the final AP poll 8 times under JD, twice under Ben Howland and only 3 other times. Hmm. (Of course the AP Poll is only 66 years old – started in 1949.) I agree the trend lately is bad but can it be turned around?


Comment by Pitt Dad 02.16.16 @ 3:15 pm

meant to write one
winning record (17-16)

Comment by milobloom 02.16.16 @ 3:16 pm

@Reed..Been using that site for a few years now…one my favorites….the baseball version is amazing…only place I get stats anymore.

Comment by milobloom 02.16.16 @ 3:17 pm

Milo, the same thing could be said about BC and Skinner. So you have a point. But the clock is ticking.

I think Jamie saves his job if, we make the tournament next year and if Jamie recruits a decent class. If he doesn’t I think it will only be a matter of time.

Not what UPitt and a few others want to hear.

Comment by gc 02.16.16 @ 3:17 pm

When cars fly (or whatever they’ll be called) then we might see an OCS.

Comment by milobloom 02.16.16 @ 3:20 pm

If Jamie can some how squeak in to the tourney this year (I can’t imagine it) it will buy him more time as well.

Comment by gc 02.16.16 @ 3:22 pm

Joe Starkey is catching on too…as well as the commentors:

link to

Comment by Jackagain 02.16.16 @ 3:23 pm

Right Milo, like George Jetson, they will build a floating stadium over Oakland, they already own the air rights.

Comment by gc 02.16.16 @ 3:23 pm

Thanks for the link Reed … Lots of mediocre basketball until Howlsnd and Dixon.. 21-0 back in the 20’s… Basketball just filled the time between many a mediocre football season back in the day.. Steelers weren’t winners, Pirates had more downs than up until the 70s.. Thank God no blogs back in those days.. Woulda had more people jumping off bridges..

Comment by BigB 02.16.16 @ 3:28 pm

@gc…..many others as well…..I was just using the two teams playing tonight 🙂 I think he has two more seasons after this one before it is seriously discussed at top if things continue the same…and as Wake Forest has shown just making the NCAA’s may not be enough.

UPitt is very emotional and wants to make a move based on those emotions. Fans are built with emotions so nothing wrong there…But, if you look at Dixon like it’s a business deal I think one would agree it’s not time to be talking about Dixon being fired yet.

Comment by milobloom 02.16.16 @ 3:30 pm

I would be totally pumped if Archie Miller was the next coach at Pitt!, not sure that would ever happen tho

Comment by Keith 02.16.16 @ 3:31 pm

WBB – I think you bang Jennifer Lawrence at the New OCS in 3 years and the news breaks Dixon is fired while you are doing it in your limo at the game. So all 3 come true and happen at same time.

Comment by Upittbaseball 02.16.16 @ 3:47 pm

Milo – For every Wake Forest there is UT and Shaka Smart so that argument doesn’t fly!!!!

Comment by Upittbaseball 02.16.16 @ 3:48 pm

Milo – I’m saying can him at the end of the season after giving him 3 months to find employment and leave and agree to a walk away number. He deserves that 100%. But if he wants to fight it I’d fired him. He has no chance of doing anything for 3-4 years.

Comment by Upittbaseball 02.16.16 @ 3:50 pm

Nice record stats Reed. Of course there are now 68 teams in NCAA plus NIT and the pay tournaments plus Pitt had some terrible facilities back then. But I agree JD going nowhere. Frustration has set in because we have built a great place for BB and we are beginning to slide.

Comment by Frank MD 02.16.16 @ 3:51 pm

All this Dixon talk is interesting, but academic. In in an ideal world, Dixon should be whacked….the guy has not recruited anywhere near well enough to field an ACC championship level team. John Wooden couldn’t win the talent Dixon has assembled. And UPitt is right, it is all about the talent.

But here on earth, there is no way in HELL Pitt comes up with the +$12 million (estimated) it would take to buyout Dixon’s contract. Pitt basketball doesn’t have the wealthy alum support needed to come up with that kind of scratch. We could start a “gofundme” account and maybe get things rolling, with, you know, maybe a couple grand….

Hopefully, Barnes forces Dixon to bring in some new “Shady” assistants to recruit. Every program needs a “get it done” guys, who is willing to do what needs to be done to get the next tier talent Pitt needs. Joe Lombardi was that guy in years past. I think Slice was willing to work with people too.

Worst case, some of these assistants get caught bending some rules, then it is easy to self impose a 1-year ban from the tourney and whack Dixon for cause. 🙂

Comment by Boubacar Aw 02.16.16 @ 3:53 pm

Only saw 3 of MY games in HS. Shied away from contact and liked the outside shot. Watched games with local HS coach who is a HOFamer and he agreed. I stand by the soft statement. Watched Chevy destroy this kid physically and did not understand why he went after him so hard until I learned he was told to try and toughen him up. Rep has always been that .

Let’s get this straight, I am not a JR apologist, it’s just some of the comments are just crazy and most likely made for effect. He is an average point guard who much, much more was expected of. I am really afraid we will miss him next year unless Wilson has an ephinony.

If you think Young is a stud you are really kidding yourself. Physically he cannot play the 4 at next level. Sorry, that’s just the truth. Let’s hope he gets it quickly, like tonight or our season is done.

Comment by JoeKnew 02.16.16 @ 3:55 pm

Dixon saved a woman from a burning car, didn’t he?

He’s a mensch and capable of doing the right thing.

Plus I don’t think he’d suffer he and his family getting vilified a bunch more years.

If it comes down to it, he’ll work out a deal neither will refuse.

Comment by steve1 02.16.16 @ 4:07 pm

I’ve reached the following conclusions based on the body of posts:
1. JD should coach Wake Forest
2. “Great” is a relative term. Because JD took Pitt to the Elite 8 once in more than a decade of coaching he is great. For the blue bloods, one elite 8 in 14 years is miserable.
3. Everyone here has read the Termination for Convenience provisions in JDs contract.
4. Pitt should be happy to be the equivalent of Cliff Robertson in the movie CHARLIE.
5. Barnes is powerless
6. Anyone from Ba Ba Beaver County with the last name of Miller should apply for the HC spot.
7. Pederson could not have screwed up more in his 2nd tenure at Pitt had he tried.

I think Pederson tried to screw it up. He wouldn’t be the first or last employee to sabotage his employer….watch Breach.

Comment by Sfpitt 02.16.16 @ 4:15 pm

I hope we treat Wake like we did VA Tech. That was the most fun we have had at the Pete all year.

Comment by gc 02.16.16 @ 4:35 pm

I heard that Pitt’s only chance in BB is to start recruiting heavily abroad. Or maybe it was to recruit some heavy broads. Can’t remember now.

Thank goodness for Coach Duzz and the 2016 FB recruiting class.

Go Pitt.

Comment by MajorMajors 02.16.16 @ 4:55 pm

MajorMajors, we need both.

Comment by gc 02.16.16 @ 5:05 pm

JoeKnew. where did you watch these 3 games with a local high school coach? You do realize that Young played at St Benedict’s in New Jersey, don’t you?

And why are you picking on Young when Artis has attempted only 4 foul shots in the past 6 games … an incredible stat! As Starkey indicated, it’s Artis that needs to get dirty. I don’t even know the stats but I’m willing to state right now that Yonng has been to the foul line more than anyone.

Comment by wbb 02.16.16 @ 5:18 pm

Just looked it up …. Mike Young has attempted 140 free throws, Artis is 2nd with 82. Young has 162 rebounds, Jeter is second 116.

So the soft Michael Young leads the team in both getting to the foul line and getting rebounds? … by far??

Comment by wbb 02.16.16 @ 5:26 pm

Pitt is a 10 point favorite tonight. I hope Pitt can live up to their betting line.

Comment by MariettaMike 02.16.16 @ 5:35 pm

They were on TV you moron!

Comment by JoeKnew 02.16.16 @ 5:41 pm

Sorry for the moron part. Soft is soft, watch when scouting reports come out, bet Upitts goat they say soft.

Comment by JoeKnew 02.16.16 @ 5:44 pm

Hey now!! Leave my goat out of this.

Tonight is a sucker bet. 10 is way to high so I love the bet and the panthers by 10. Remember Vegas is crooked. Everyone will take WF +10.

Panthers by 13!

Comment by Upittbaseball 02.16.16 @ 5:54 pm

10 point favorite now? Wake money must be coming in… 😉

Comment by Jackagain 02.16.16 @ 5:55 pm

Must have been UPitt’s bet that dropped it a point.

Comment by Jackagain 02.16.16 @ 5:55 pm

I dont see Pitt covering. Only way Pitt beats Wake by more than 10 is if Dixon gets a T and is thrown out early on. Then Pitt plays up tempo and wins in a blow out 95-65.

Comment by TX Panther 02.16.16 @ 6:05 pm

I really am sorry about the smart ass remarks, I’m a little crispy. My big time weight lifting younger brother is with us (8th week) as he fell and ruptured both quad tendons!! Amost unheard of, and if any of you have had to take care of a sibling ( in a non life threatening way) you know what I mean!! Spent 3 was in rehab in Fla. Then med flight here! I need a vacation! (Or a Pitt win as I feel it’s been that long!)

Comment by JoeKnew 02.16.16 @ 6:38 pm

I’m late to the party here. But holy crap. Even the well-reasoned and rational article is a little off base. The comments are downright pathological.

I like the Andy Reid example. The problem is the Eagles haven’t been as good since he left. Reid leaving gave Reid an opportunity for more success but not the program he left.

Almost no one except maybe a small handful of coaches in the major sports will have consistent success as a top 10% team. To lose your mind over a couple down years is the kind of thing people that go bankrupt in the stock market do. Panic when things are low rather than riding them out. The most successful programs in all sports tend to have coaches with long tenures, despite that there were bad stretches during those tenures. Look at the Steelers. A top 3 NFL organization. They had bad stretches of multiple years under each Knoll, Cowher and Tomlin but are on the whole a top organization (or the Pats, probably top in the NFL, had at least two different years of the Belichek-Brady era where they missed the playoffs). Or look at the Spurs, the top NBA, a historically great run, and they had years where they barely made the playoffs. Example after example.

But the metaphor i think is the stock market. If you panic when things are low despite being in a by and large robust economy (US has down years, still strongest and most stable economy on earth) you will dig yourself into a hole repeatedly. Until someone can say with some reasonable certainty that there is a better coach that will come to our program, then Dixon is and should be the guy.

Comment by PantherP 02.18.16 @ 3:12 pm

metaphor extension for clarity – if Pitt makes the tourny again, they are a fairly robust and stable program despite not getting stellar results at the moment.

I just don’t want to see this basketball program go through the same embarrassing carousel that the football prgram went through until Narduzzi — who by the way, still has a way to go to actually prove himself. One decent year isn’t enough, if we apply pitt fan logic. But there doesn’t seem to be any pitt fan logic (these are the same people who chased out Wanstache because he didn’t live up to ridiculously unrealistic expectations).

Comment by PantherP 02.18.16 @ 3:16 pm

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