“Friends, countrymen, Yinzers… lend me your ears.
I came not to bury Jamie Dixon, but to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Dixon.”
Those words are an adapted version of Marc Antony’s famous soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, but they seem fitting given the current landscape of big-time college basketball.
They serve as a current metaphor as well as an eventual epithet for the Pitt men’s basketball coach. As the seemingly annual criticism of Dixon’s shortcomings rains down from the soon-to-be spring skies, here’s a little perspective on the standard he is measured against as a coach who has yet to lead the Panthers to a Final Four, much less win a national championship.
Here is the list of coaches who have won the last 19 national titles: Kevin Ollie, Rick Pitino (twice), John Calipari, Jim Calhoun (three times), Mike Krzyzewski (twice), Roy Williams (twice), Bill Self, Billy Donovan (twice), Jim Boeheim, Gary Williams, Tom Izzo, Tubby Smith and Lute Olson.
Of those 13 coaches, 10 of them – Pitino, Olson, Izzo, Krzyzewski, Boeheim, Roy Williams, Donovan, Self and Calipari – have also reached the national championship game and lost.
Of those 10, only two reached the final game in their first NCAA Division I head coaching jobs: Izzo at Michigan State and Boeheim at Syracuse.
It took Izzo only five seasons to reach his first Final Four, and then he went back a year later and cut down the nets in his sixth.
Boeheim reached the Final Four three times in his first 27 seasons, but didn’t finally win it all until the last of them (2003). He’s only been back to the Final Four once since then.
My point is that winning an NCAA basketball championship is VERY difficult, and there is a reason why only a certain number have done it. To expect so much from a head coach who is 12 seasons into his first Power Five conference job is not only unfair, but history shows us that it’s also largely unrealistic.
This season Dixon recorded both his 300th career win and only his 100th career loss, and he finishes with a career winning percentage of .736. Only six on the aforementioned list of championship coaches (Pitino, Olson, Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Self, Calipari) have an equal winning percentage or better.
This season will only be the second in Dixon’s tenure where Pitt will not earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Perhaps reaching the Sweet Sixteen twice in Dixon’s first four seasons and the Elite Eight in his sixth set the bar a little too high too soon. Or maybe it was winning two Big East regular season championships, one Big East Tournament, a FIBA gold medal and four national Coach of the Year awards. But the unfortunate cost of that early success is raised expectations which haven’t been met in recent years.
I will not submit a list of reasons why Dixon can or will eventually meet those expectations, since Chris Peak already did so in this week’s episode of the “Panther Lair” Show. But I will use the previous examples as reasons for fans to exercise more patience.
What Jamie Dixon has done has only been matched or bettered by few, and those accomplishments are celebrated in the annals of basketball history.
And when his time at Pitt comes to an end, regardless of the outcome, so let it be with Dixon.