Stability At The Top

Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon and his staff will hit the recruiting trail next week in an attempt to solidify the Panthers' 2011 class that already includes sharp-shooter John Johnson from Girard College in Philadelphia.

There will be one difference, as Dixon has a contract extension that will keep him at Pittsburgh through the 2017-18 season. Dixon, however, did not believe anything would change for the Panthers as far as recruiting is concerned.

"It's been going on for so long,'' Dixon said. "It's either one way or another. You're either going somewhere else or you're in trouble where you're at, so it depends how you look at it. But I don't think it's a major factor. I really don't.

"Actions and history, to me, are the most important things. A coach can say whatever he wants, but from my perspective ... the fact that I've been here for 11 years now, that should mean the most to recruits that we're looking at.''

There is a tangible aspect to it, as Dixon's contract extends beyond the careers of prospective current recruits.

"Not many coaches can say that they've been at a place 11 years as an assistant and then a head coach, and that should be the most important factor,'' Dixon said. "My track record, what I've done and what has happened here, those factors should mean more than anything that's said.

"(And) nothing really changes from my perspective. We're not going to do anything differently, what we're doing, how we're doing it and why we're doing it. Everything remains the same, my commitment and the university's commitment. ... So, nothing changes in our program at this point.''

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson believed that the stability with the Panthers is critical.

"I told Jamie that I would like to never have to hire another basketball coach,'' Pederson said. "It's just fabulous for our program. I think that's why we are where we are today. Stability is key, and it's very hard to start over (with a new coaching staff).

"You can set the program back. To continue to climb, it's important in athletics that we maintain momentum. Outstanding individuals leading our program gives us stability. Our student athletes come here and can focus on achievement at their highest levels.''

The same thing could be said for Pitt's football program with head coach Dave Wannstedt in the fold now through the 2014 season. Pederson addressed that situation as well.

"You're talking about somebody who's committed to this university, and we've been committed to him,'' Pederson said. "There has never been a waiver of support.

"(And) since there's an era of uncertainty, at times, in college athletics, we felt that it was important to extend Dave now so the players and staff know who the head coach is going to be. Sometimes, a tangible sign is needed, and that can be a contract extension.''

With the way coaches are hired and fired in both football and basketball each season, at least double-digit figures year after year, Pitt fans have to be thrilled to have stability at the top of the Panthers top athletic programs. Wannstedt enters his sixth season, while Dixon has just completed his seventh.

If both complete their contracts, they will be among the longest-tenured coaches in men's basketball and football at Pitt. None have been as successful as Dixon, tied for the most wins with Gonzaga's Mark Frew in his first seven seasons as a head coach.

After a rough start to his coaching career at Pitt, Wannstedt is getting there. His 2010 recruiting class could turn out to be the best yet, and with the contract extension Wannstedt believed the best was yet to come.

"I told all the recruits that I had the extension,'' Wannstedt joked. "No, I told them to call Steve. (But) it's important when those young men and the mothers are sitting there, they want to make sure that their sons are going into a stable situation. I followed this job for a long time.

"The instability or Pitt would win some games, and then it was a stepping stone. That whole mentality is gone, and the recruits know that. Their parents know it, and the high school coaches know it. They know that I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere. I've said that from Day 1, and I haven't wavered from that.''

With Wannstedt and Dixon at the helm, Pitt's top athletic programs are in the best shape they've been in for years, and the future is brighter than ever as well.

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