People often say there's a time, and place, for everything. For Jamie Dixon, the here and now were each right for a return to his alma mater.
Year-in and year-out, the rumors of "Dixon to x-school" swirled. And every year, any indication Dixon might leave proved false. Then, in 2013, he signed an extension that would keep him at Pitt for the next 10 years and indicated he would finish his career coaching the Panthers.
Monday, Dixon vacated his position as Pitt's head coach and accepted the same job at Texas Christian University. Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes made the official announcement in the early evening.
"We all knew that job was open so certainly it wasn’t a surprise," Barnes said. "But as we moved through the process I learned he felt that there was a very small window of opportunity he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to take later. His heart and head was moving that way."
Chancellor Patrick Gallagher released a statement and lauded Dixon for his achievements on and off the court at Pitt, while wishing him well as Dixon returns to TCU where he played from 1984-87.
"For 17 years—13 as head coach—Jamie Dixon has been a remarkable ambassador for the University of Pittsburgh," Gallagher said in the release. "He was a great leader who cared deeply for our student-athletes and our entire basketball program. I can appreciate that the rare chance of coaching for your alma mater does not come up very often and is hard to pass up, but we will miss him here at Pitt. We wish him the best and we now turn our attention to advancing our program, building on the solid foundation Jamie left us."
Dixon led the Panthers to 328 wins and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances in 13 years. The Panthers won two Big East tournament championships, one regular-season Big East title and made a run to the Elite Eight in 2009. Dixon's accomplishments run long, from how quickly he accumulated 300 wins to his winning percentage over the last 13 years. Off the court, he kept the program out of trouble and his players were among the nation's most successful academically.
In short, the most successful coach in program history is no longer at Pitt.
The Horned Frogs fired head coach Trent Johnson last week after he won just eight Big 12 games in four seasons. TCU's last NCAA Tournament appearance was in 1998, the year before Dixon reunited with Ben Howland at Pitt as his top assistant.
TCU already proved its commitment toward building a successful basketball program with the renovation of Schollmaier Arena, a process that cost upwards of $70 million. Now, the Horned Frogs have a shiny new coach to match.
Reports of mutual interest between Dixon and TCU emerged Sunday afternoon and gained steam throughout the evening and into Monday morning, when reports began to emerge Dixon had in fact moved on from Pitt.
Part of Barnes' statement released by the school noted he and Dixon began discussing his "long-term personal and professional aspirations" in recent weeks.
Barnes confirmed there was a buyout in Dixon's contract, one he called as "significant" as any he's seen in the collegiate athletic marketplace. Because the dollar amount numbered so high, the buyout was "softened" to facilitate Dixon's transition from Pitt to TCU once Barnes learned Dixon's head and heart lay in Fort Worth.
"Because of that it wouldn’t have been good for our program or student-athletes or him and his family to hold him hostage by what was a way-beyond-market buyout," Barnes said.
While no specific numbers were disclosed, Barnes also assured that the Panthers took care of their "fiduciary duties" in negotiating Dixon's buyout.
Pitt's attention now turns to finding a new head basketball coach for the first time since 2003, a search Barnes said will begin immediately. While the potential for Dixon's move did not develop until recently, that doesn't mean Barnes is bereft of candidates in mind.
"If you’re an AD worth your salt you better have a list in your pocket at all times in today’s day-and-age and today’s market," Barnes said. "Certainly, there’s folks we have in mind and we’ll pursue aggressively."
Barnes says the school will prioritize looking for a sitting Division I head coach, but wouldn't rule out the potential for other candidates. The traits of the next head coach will be like those required of any Pitt athletics hire.
"We’re looking for incredible and impeccable character," Barnes said, "a high motor, a guy that can absolutely recruit his tail off. We’re looking for somebody that can connect with our student-athletes so that student-athlete experience is at a very, very high level."
Barnes says the Panthers will not limit their search to candidates with regional ties, and that the school has already enlisted a search firm to help with the process. In fact, Barnes listed the facilities, fan support and ACC platform as he spoke confidently to the assertion that the Pitt job is seen as a "fantastic job" by many around the country
"This is a national job," Barnes said. "The ACC is a national [platform]. We’ve got six teams going to the Sweet 16, most in the history of the NCAA. This platform that is the ACC, and the job that Pitt is, is a national job."
Barnes joked he would like to have a new head coach "tomorrow" and that he was already behind in his search.
Dixon's departure is most certainly a loss for the program, but Barnes pointed to the opportunity to revitalize the program after a few years of perceived stagnation. After a dip in attendance this past season as well, Barnes referred to Pat Narduzzi's impact on the football fan base and promised the basketball hire would deliver in the same way.
"A new era in Pitt basketball begins earnestly today," Barnes said. "We will work quickly and diligently to find our new leader and we’ll continue to make progress in this program."