Jamie Dixon went to 11 NCAA Tournaments in 13 seasons at Pitt and averaged 25.2 wins per year. The Panthers had a great coach and didn't appreciate him. Facts are facts.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 22, 2018
Yes, exactly, I remember it like it was yesterday.
Jamie had run out to get the mail, which was odd in and of itself - he rarely got letters, and beyond that, it was a downpour. Out of the corner of all of our eyes, we saw him, half-running, switching as best he could between using the mail as an umbrella to keep his hair dry and using him body to protect the mail.
“What’s up?” we asked when he came in. We all knew something was up. “Expecting something important to come through?”
“No,” the coach said, lying. We all always knew when he had a secret. The lack of eye contact gave it away this time.
“Jamie...” most of us sighed. “Jamie, what’s so important in the post that it couldn’t wait until the storm passed?”
We (that is, every Pitt fan, acting as a single unit) did not all say this, though. Just a solid majority, enough that the thrust was clear. Among the rest of us, a few were disinterested in this conversation, a few seemed worried, but didn’t want to press. A few, perhaps, knew already where the conversation was going, what with their “sources” and “hunches.” But one of us, apparently, couldn’t let there be a moment of silence, even as Jamie let the silence hang. He just had to speak up. Had to confront.
“Are you leaving?!” one of us yelled. Christ. Someone always wants to go rogue.
The accusation put a snap in the air. Everyone stood up a bit straighter. Jamie was making eye contact now, with one of us, all of us. A thousand hands were already on the mouth of the accuser, but the damage was done.
“Yes. I am.” All of our ears were suddenly ringing. Our eyes hurt. A few of us tried to say something, but words kept getting lost. A few solitary utterances of “you’” “but” and “why” were pelted at him like snowballs from the most composed of us, but never with the force to reach across the room; they fell with soft thuds halfway between us all and him, melting into the carpet, unacknowledged.
And then suddenly, coordinated, a barrage.
“Damn you!” we all screamed, even the formerly reluctant. “You cursed failure! You hopeless fool! You are nothing without us!”
Stiff upper lip, as always. He took a moment. “You don’t mean that.”
“Oh, we do!” we were all burning now. “We, as a program, deserve significantly better than your endless string of failures in the tournament, and your consistent ability to produce 20-win seasons!”
“Where are you going? TCU? TCU? Have fun living in the basement of the Big 12 forever and ever! You will never, ever win there! Also, let us know how the basement of a conference is, we’ve forgotten!”
“You forgot because-”
“We can definitely do better than you, and you were never good! And we all think that!” we screamed, all thinking that. “Literally anyone would do better!” we screamed more, ignoring the fact that Pittsburgh is actually not particularly strong recruiting territory for basketball. “We will hire literally anyone and they will be able to produce talented and competitive ACC basketball teams!”
He stopped trying to fight back now. There was no point, whenever we were this upset, trying to reason.
“You have been coasting on Ben Howland’s work for thirteen years!” a few of us shouted. “You recruiting solely on the mystique and prestige of playing for the Pittsburgh Panthers!” chanted others. “I hate you! Hate you! Hate you! Hate you! Hate you!” a few others screamed, beating their temples with the palms of their hands. “Hate you!”
Somewhere along the course of the evening, plates were smashed. Shirts were shredded. Bridges were burned.
A few tense, silent days later, we all drove him to the airport. He spent most of it intently staring at the shoulder of the highway; we, a group of tens of thousands of individuals attempting to act as a single entity, struggled with such a complex task as operating a motor vehicle. Some of us popped the trunk without looking at him. Others glanced, but he was already out and getting his bags. Some of us didn’t feel like crying. None of us felt like putting the car back in drive.
He knocked on the passenger window.
Enough of us rolled down the window that it cracked.
“I just want you to know...”
“I tried my best.”
“No, come on,” we all knew, “that wasn’t true at the end there.”