Nice win on Wednesday, gentlemen. ESPN3 blacked it out in NYC because Providence, RI and Pittsburgh, PA are very close to the Big Apple. Huh?
Regardless of the outcome again Providence, I've been wanting to do a piece on Jamie Dixon's recent struggles in the context of the proverbial hot seat. I mean, all of us are on the hot seat at some point point in our lives, either in the form of poor semesters, missed project deadlines, strained relationships, mismanaged fantasy teams, etc.
Coach Dixon, for all the good he's done at Pitt, is not immune to this topic of conversation. Bloggers do this type of meaningful work. Well, in a series of posts, I'll be looking at his connection to current and former hot seaters across the Big East and college basketball landscape.
Current Big East Coaches
Coaches come and go, but there are four Big East coaches that bear semblance to Jamie Dixon's coaching arc and, most recent, hot seat talk.
Brey, in his 12th year at Notre Dame, experienced the warmest of seats after 2005-2006, winning a career-low six games in Big East play and 16 overall. The NIT was becoming the norm after three straight trips to the step-sister invitational. One could debate expectations are lower there than at Pitt, but Brey turned it around over those next two seasons, winning 49 total games, and earning himself a contract extension through the 2015 season.
Warmest State: 2005-2006 Off-Season
John Thompson III
John Thompson III took over for Craig Esherick in 2004, when the program was at a low point after not making the NCAAs three consecutive seasons. Unlike Dixon, who took over for Howland as the team was on the rise, JT III built the program back up in a hurry with a trip to the Final Four in 2007.
However, since then, the Hoyas have failed to reach the second weekend of the tournament (even missing out in 2009) and invited many passionate Georgetown fans in this past off-season to begin further discourse on the hot seat. He's off the coals now, with the unexpected good start to the season, but expect the seat to get toastier as the middle of March and second weekend pressure rolls around.
Warmest State: 2010-2011 Off-Season
Jay Wright, the stud that he is, can handle good convection heat from time to time. A slow starter in his first three years at Villanova, Jay went on quite the post-season run from 2005 to 2009. Two Sweet 16's, an Elite Eight and, oh yeah, that f*&%^$ Final Four for good measure.
Early exits the last two seasons had Wildcat fans grumbling in the off-season, but those talks have only intensified this season as the losses and Pitt-like play have plagued a rather experienced Villanova team. Even with a great recruiting class coming in, Jay will face his toughest critics yet this off-season, but in a good way. He's the one that created this beautiful mess.
Warmest Time: Now
Slick quick Rick, as my Kentucky friend Linda refers to him, was the savior in Louisville when he first arrived on campus in 2001. Just like Wright, it took Pitino a few years to mold the program to his liking, but when he did he struck chicken in a bucket. Averaging 27 wins from 2004-2005 to 2008-2009, Louisville made it to one Final Four and two Elite Eights in that stretch.
While most fans would be thrilled with an Elite Eight appearance, it was the 2009 loss, as the #1 overall seed, that sparked a recurring March theme for Cardinal fans: underachievement. Two first round exits later and a rough start to this season has Pitino answering a question he's only accustomed to at the pro level. Is your job on the line?
Warmest Time: Now
1. For three of the four coaches mentioned, a Final Four appearance is a serious feather in the cap. Metaphorically, what does that mean for the temperature of their seat? Non-scientifically speaking, I'd have to think it buys them at least three years of runway, unless a major NCAA violation or personal misdeed is committed.
I really wish someone could do a correlation analysis of what a Final Four berth or BCS victory means for a coach's job stability. If anyone could pull this off, it would be the godfather - Ken Pomeroy.
2. Do schools have clear, post-season metrics on how they evaluate coaches? For example, if said coach misses the tournament two straight seasons, then their contract is terminated, regardless of injuries or player defections.
In contrast, is it more on a case-by-case basis? More like, "We feel the program is headed in the wrong direction and we need a change," or, "The program has went through its struggles; however, we believe Coach Hot Seater is the best man suited to right the ship."
You have to believe Pitt plays both cards, but leans more towards the latter, assessing the program on an intuitive basis and hoping they make the right, long-term decision. That said, based on last year's success, I think Dixon provided himself at least two more years of runway.
3. Compared to the four coaches and respective schools above, I think Pitt's internal evaluation system falls somewhere in between Mike Brey and the other three coaches. No matter how much Notre Dame might talk of national championship aspirations, they are quite content with consistent play in the Big East and moderate NCAA tournament success. Pitino, Wright and JTIII, on the other hand, have the added pressure of national championship banners hanging in their rafters. Generally speaking, now that every coach has their players and system in place, annual trips to the NIT will not cut it.
As for Dixon and looking ahead, if he pulls the same move that Brey did from 2003-2006 (three straight NIT appearances and never reaching the 20-win mark), I highly doubt Pitt will afford him that fourth season to turn it around. Notre Dame gave Brey that opportunity, but I don't know if Pitt will display that patience - especially as an ACC newcomer.
4. As Anson covered very well in an earlier post, the NCAA tournament is an unpredictable, schizophrenic animal. None of the five coaches (including Dixon) have reached the second weekend of the tournament since 2009 and Louisville/Georgetown are the only teams this year with a reasonable chance at bucking the trend. The sudden death format is brutal, as we saw with the Packers in the NFL this season.
As a fan, I know we can't have our cake and eat it, too, except with the Steelers to some degree. If I had the pick between the current Pitt way as a consistent regular season winner or a Ryan Howard-ish way with one Final Four appearance for every three or four NITs, I'd go the boring, adult route.
It's a long season, folks, and over the course of 35 games, I'd much rather watch Coach Dixon beat on the likes of Georgetown, Syracuse and West Virginia throughout January and February, than, winning one or two games against Butler, Xavier or, yes, Villanova. And, remember how ugly that Wagner loss was at holiday time. Yeah, gross.
Although, that one, wild and crazy night with the bombshell (Final Four) would make for a great story. On second thought…
In closing, next week, I'll compare Jamie Dixon to coaches outside of the Big East in similar situations. I'll also look to define "runway" with a bit more clarity. For now, I like the ambiguity of it. It will be dropped numerous times during the Pro Bowl this weekend, when nothing else warrants my attention.
Tell me what you think. How warm is the seat right now? How warm will it get before we've had enough? And, how does it compare to other Big East teams' coaching situations?