With TCU job, Jamie Dixon receives deserved appreciation

(Photo Courtesy of Mac Engel, Columnist for Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

(Photo Courtesy of Mac Engel, Columnist for Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

At Texas Christian University’s press conference-pep rally hybrid introducing Jamie Dixon as its next head basketball coach, the school’s chancellor dusted off an old fact about the new hire.

It was one that Pitt fans have heard broadcasters use as a talking point for the past 13 years.

“But what you really don’t know about our new coach is that this is the first coach we will ever hire who is a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild,” TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini said.

While this might have been the hundredth time Panther fans have heard that tidbit about their former coach, it was probably the first that the Horned Frogs faithful had learned about it — and it was exciting.

For the first time in at least four years, and maybe longer, Dixon will finally feel — deservedly — appreciated.

While TCU appears to be a step down from Pitt program-wise — Dixon’s Panthers won more conference games in 2015-2016 than TCU had during former coach Trent Johnson’s entire tenure — the job makes up for that in terms of job security, his relationship with the athletic director and, most importantly, the zeal.

Fan appreciation shouldn’t be a requisite for a coach to stay at a job, by any means. Earning $3 million a year, a coach can expect harsh criticism and negativity when he or she doesn’t meet lofty goals, and Dixon has admitted as much.

But having that divided fanbase still can’t be easy, and after years of delivering handfuls of wins to the University of Pittsburgh, a contingent of people started questioning Dixon for not winning the big game.

After every loss to a top team, blame Dixon.

After every time a top-tier recruit chose a different school, blame Dixon.

After every time Pitt was underseeded in an NCAA tournament, blame Dixon.

And blaming Dixon was the fans’ right. He could have made a few personnel tweaks. He could have recruited better and in different areas. He could have scheduled some tougher non-conference opponents. As the highest-paid state employee in Pennsylvania, it was acceptable to hold him to a higher standard.

But even a huge salary didn’t diminish Dixon’s right to seek out a place that appreciated a coach of his stature more than Pitt did. With a new administration in place that didn’t hire Dixon, new Pitt Athletic Director Scott Barnes might not have met the surliness surrounding Dixon’s standing as head coach with an overwhelming sentiment of loyalty. It was smart to get out before the fan frustration warmed his seat.

And that frustration came during seasons that TCU would kill for. While these past five campaigns — the biggest source of fans souring on Dixon — haven’t been barnburners, many programs would bend over backward for the 112-63 record he compiled over that span. His 45-45 mark during conference play in two of the toughest leagues in the country was more than respectable.

Instead, Dixon — and Ben Howland, his predecessor, to an extent — set high standards, inconceivably high standards. Going 31-5 in your first season as a head coach like Dixon did in 2003-2004 doesn’t happen by accident. It also doesn’t happen every year, but that was inconceivable to a portion of the fanbase.

Plus, in Dixon’s final year, Pitt fans fell in love with the new guy on campus, the promising, outgoing and often-tweeting new football coach, Pat Narduzzi.

And while Narduzzi undoubtedly jolted the football program with some much-needed life, it was odd to see the undwindling support the first-year coach received after an 8-4 season against fairly docile competition, compared to the lack of backing Dixon had, despite his track record.

Now, Dixon is the fresh face, the newcomer in Fort Worth, Texas, the one creating the buzz — not losing it.

With Pitt’s coaching search already off to a bizarre start after Arizona coach Sean Miller spurned the Panthers, anti-Dixonites in Pittsburgh might soon learn that replicating any semblance of past success Dixon had won’t be as easy as it was in their fantasies.

As for TCU, they don’t need 30-win seasons. The program has been through the ringer, and they’ll take any sniff of success. There’s a reason that their entire department celebrated the hire as if they won a conference championship.

They know they have a really good coach. And he’s got a SAG card.

I think they’ll take it.