Then there was the news that former Pitt recruit Herb Pope is going to the NBA early. Well, at least in the NBA Draft.
And then things got, well, weird. I was listening to The Fan today and heard Jamie Dixon coming on. That's when all hell broke loose. If you've not yet heard the interview, you can check it out here. The weird part came when Dixon was asked if he would even be the coach NEXT YEAR. I'm thinking this was a slam dunk 'yes', but then came the awkward laugh, the dancing around, and certainly anything but a yes. Downright scary. I can see him not committing to the long-term. Given his history, I didn't expect that. But to not be able to commit to next year? That's a little alarming.
Another telling fact was when asked if he met with Oregon representatives, not only did he not didn't deny it, he didn't even address it. Hmm, strike two.
Still, I fully expect Jamie Dixon to return next season. I'm leaning this way for a number of reasons:
1. Pitt has a good team coming back next year and an even better one coming the year after. Recruiting has gotten better and better and Pitt has exceeded the 'team' label and become a program. Something that should be able to be sustained as long as Pitt sticks to the same system and avoids thinks like violations.
2. Dixon has stated over and over that he genuinely likes the area and that his family likes it here. Don't know how true this is, but you've got to think it's at least partially true since he brings it up so often.
3. Dixon can establish a true legacy here at Pitt by sticking around for many years. That type of thing is rare in coaching.
4. The whole Big East thing will loom large until the Big Ten figures out its situation. But for the time being, Dixon has the luxury of playing in the best conference in the country. In a sport like football that doesn't have a playoff, playing in the toughest conference may be a hinderance. One loss can ruin your season. But in basketball, it prepares you for the tournament and assists greatly in recruiting.
5. Going to Oregon would mean he would have to face Ben Howland twice a year. For the life of me, I don't understand why this should matter to Dixon. And despite his insistence that he doesn't want to do that, I don't think it would stand in the way of getting a job he really wants. Still, he HAS mentioned it and assuming he's not lying, should favor Pitt.
6. He passed on the Arizona job when it was open. That school has much more prestige than Oregon and I don't understand why he would not take that job then turn around and take an inferior one.
Look, I don't think it's a guarantee that Dixon will be around long-term. He's never said that this was where he wanted to be for good, and even if he had, things can change. But simply put, I don't see him leaving this year.
But I'll say this and it's meant as no slight to him. The fact that his name is continually brought up means something very important to me. It means that other schools have reason to believe, (for whatever the reason), that he is 'available.' Until he repeatedly comes out and says he wants to be at Pitt for the long haul, this type of stuff will continue to happen. Do I want Dixon to stay? Of course I do. I think he's one of the best coaches in the country. He proved he can win with limited talent and as more starts to come in, look out. I think Pitt is a budding program that can turn into a UCONN in the near future (5-10 years down the road).
I'm also getting sick of this annual dance we seem to have with him. He never comes flat out to deny any job. I understand he's doing that to avoid the same fate Ben Howland did with fans here. But, really, you can't turn down ANY job publicly? I really believe that most of this is just posturing for more money (and even in the case of potentially playing a factor on if Pitt would ever leave the Big East, a certain degree of power), but the University has done right by him in my eyes. First, there was the 2006 extension that significantly increased his salary after he was mentioned as a possible Arizona State candidate. Then there was the 2008 increase that bumped him up over his then $1.3 million salary.
The Chicago Tribune reports that his salary is currently $1.5 million. Dixon is a great coach, but still one without even a Final Four appearance. Oregon could throw Nike money at him, but you've got to think Pitt would at the very least offer a raise to try to get closer. John Calipari leads the list and there are only three guys at $3 million and over. If Oregon came in with $3 million, I've got to think Pitt will try to get to at least $2 million. I really think Oregon would need to make him one of the top 1-2 highest paid coaches in the NCAA to get him.
Dixon's salary has risen considerably over the past few years, as well it should have. But at what point does Pitt finally say 'enough is enough?' I don't fault Dixon necessarily for this. He's playing the game he needs to play to a degree. But I really wonder when Pitt will finally say 'no' to him without seeing a significant boost to the program's postseason success. As mentioned, Dixon has zero Final Fours, let alone championships, to his name. Certainly not a fireable offense, but his salary is well in line with someone of his accomplishments so far.
I'd be surprised if he goes, but this story seems like it will be around until Oregon fills its position.