The head coach at the College of Charleston from 2002-06, Tom Herrion gave Pitt New England and ACC-area recruiting connections that it lacked and also provided a different look at the program. With Herrion's help, as well as a topnotch recruiting class added to an already-talented returning roster, the Panthers could take their successful program to another level.
"It's not possible for a fan or person who follows this program so closely to step away and truly appreciate what they have accomplished here,'' Herrion said. "So, I can offer that perspective, even though I'm part of it now. And I've heard that a lot since we've been here, in terms of how Pitt can get over the hump and what it would take for us to take that next step.
"But a lot of variables have to take place, and some of it will be pure luck. In the same breath, you still have to take a moment to truly appreciate what has been accomplished, the establishment of one of the top 10 programs in America. However, we all know that in some people's minds, we'll have to take that next step to validate us as a top-10 program. But I know that in the coaching circles outside of Pittsburgh, that already has been done.''
Pitt's success since Ben Howland and Dixon helped turn the program around eight years ago has been well-documented. And while the Panthers have won a couple Big East titles and qualified for seven straight NCAA Tournaments, they have not advanced past the Sweet Sixteen.
"We know the fans are passionate and very supportive, and they want success,'' Herrion said. "I call it the more syndrome. Everybody wants more of what you have, and they have had a lot of success here. (But) Jamie and the staff have been very receptive to what they can do, what adjustments we can make with our process, to take that next step.
"Now, I'm going to pick my spots to talk about it, because I'm not the type of person to push things on others. But I have been very fortunate to have been part of successful programs with Pete (Gillen at Providence College and Virginia) and have had some success on my own as well.
"Of course,'' Herrion added, "I'm not coming here with all the answers, but I've been exposed to some different things in my career that can benefit the program. And I think that's one of the things Jamie recognized, and that's why he was so aggressive in wanting me to join the staff.''
Herrion replaced Mike Rice some two months ago. He was a commentator for ESPN last season after leaving the College of Charleston. He is the third new assistant to come to Pitt in the past two years.
"Few coaches stay a real long time at any one program, and young assistants are mostly looking to move on to head coaching jobs,'' Herrion said. "But I've already done that. That's not where I'm at right now in my career, so I'm very glad to be at Pitt. Clearly, Jamie's success speaks for itself during his four seasons as a head coach at Pitt.
"And he's not threatened to bring in someone with head coaching experience. That certainly speaks to his level of confidence. As we got to know each other, he found out that wasn't my agenda. I'm part of a team here, in terms of working with other talented coaches, and we all have a niche to help this program build on its winning tradition.''
Former Pitt player Orlando Antigua, in his second season on the coaching staff, was all to glad to get a former head coach to join the Panthers.
"I think it's great to get a coach with Tom's background on our staff,'' Antigua said. "He's going to be a great addition to it, and I'm looking forward to working with him for a long time here.''
David Cox, Pitt's former director of operations, recently left the program to become an assistant at Georgetown. Herrion, who turns 40 this fall, replaced Rice and joins assistants Pat Sandle and Antigua on Dixon's staff. Panthers video coordinator Brandin Knight is a candidate to replace Cox.
Rice was named Robert Morris University head coach on April 26. Former Pitt assistants Barry Rohrssen (Manhattan) and Joe Lombardi (Indiana, Pa.) were named head coaches at their respective schools last summer. Dixon himself was an assistant at Pitt before being promoted five years ago.
"That speaks volumes about Jamie's ability to prepare guys for their opportunity to be a head coach,'' Herrion said. "And he not only helps them to get jobs, but he has shown them how to go on and be successful as a head coach. I've been on that side, working with Pete Gillen at Providence and Virginia, and now I have a chance to work with Coach Dixon.
"But I'm at a different stage of my career now. Five or six years ago, I really wanted to be a head coach. And I was very fortunate to have done that. I feel like we did a good job there. If it happens again, which I hope it does eventually, that would be great. But it's not the end all and be all for me at this point. I'm at a little different point in my career right now.''
Herrion is trying to get settled into a new home in the area before he and his fellow coaches hit the recruiting trail July 6. His wife, Leslie, and son Robert James, nearly 2, are expected to join him soon on a full-time basis.
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