Hiring from within
Pitt promotes assistant Dixon to replace HowlandPosted: Tuesday April 15, 2003 11:17 AM
Updated: Tuesday April 15, 2003 7:46 PM
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Jamie Dixon was certain he would be Pitt's coach even when Skip Prosser clearly was the first choice.
Dixon, never a head coach, emerged from a two-week search Tuesday as the new coach of a team he helped transform from a Big East also-ran to a Top 10 power in only four seasons.
"I wanted to keep working for this job because I felt I was the best coach for this program," said Dixon, who previously was Pitt's associate head coach under Ben Howland. "People kept asking me how I was doing, but I never got uptight. The players kept encouraging me. I never had a doubt this would happen."
Howland left Pitt to become UCLA's coach less than a week after the Panthers' NCAA tournament loss to Marquette on March 27. Pitt then targeted Prosser, the Wake Forest coach, but he turned down the job Friday after nearly accepting it several days earlier.
Dixon's hiring was quickly embraced by Pitt's players, all of whom -- even the departing seniors -- gathered at his news conference as a show of support. The former UC-Santa Barbara, Hawaii and Northern Arizona assistant is the first Pitt coach since Tim Grgurich in the 1970s to be promoted without first being a head coach.
Several players made it known to the administration they preferred Dixon even to a proven coach such as Prosser, the Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year and a Pittsburgh native.
"I saw the chancellor [Mark Nordenberg] walking across the campus and I told him I really trusted coach Dixon and I would appreciate it if he got the job," point guard Carl Krauser said.
Julius Page, one of two returning starters, was adamant about not wanting a change from the system Howland and Dixon taught -- tight, physical defense and a move-the-ball offense that demands unselfishness. Pitt went 57-11 the past two seasons with that system.
"We said coach Dixon would be the best guy -- we didn't want anybody to come in and mess it up," Page said.
Pitt's top recruit, Chris Taft, said he would consider going to another school if Dixon wasn't hired.
The 37-year-old Dixon interviewed recently for head coaching vacancies at Wright State and Illinois State, but said those schools soon realized he wanted only the Pitt job. He has been an assistant coach for 12 years, including nine under Howland at Northern Arizona and Pittsburgh.
Pitt interim athletic director Marc Boehm discouraged talk about Dixon's lack of head coaching experience, pointing out three of the Final Four coaches -- Tom Crean, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim -- were promoted from assistants' jobs.
Dixon's dogged pursuit of the job impressed Boehm and Nordenberg, even after Pitt's interest in Prosser became known.
"If it's possible to happen in only three days, he has matured," Said Boehm, who held a second interview with Dixon on Sunday. "His confidence was unbelievable. That's what hit me the most -- the things he said."
Dixon's hiring became official only hours before Pitt's end-of-season basketball banquet and three days before an important Division I recruiting period opens. Dixon and assistant Barry Rohrssen, who also will stay at Pitt, will be on the road recruiting.
Dixon also hired Orlando Antigua, a former Pitt and Harlem Globetrotters player, as his director of basketball operations.
Dixon was an all-conference guard at Texas Christian, and later attended UC-Santa Barbara for his master's degree. He inherits four of the top seven players: Page, forward-center Chevy Troutman, forward Jaron Brown and Krauser, a redshirt freshman last season.
One of Dixon's advantages is the new basketball arena he can sell to recruits. Pitt was 16-0 in its first season in the Petersen Events Center.
"My primary focus was taking was to find a coach who could take over a Top 10 program ... that has reached heights some people once considered impossible," Boehm said. "In Jamie, we have a person who can help us reach even higher."