Pitt's Dixon signs new 10-year deal through 2022-23
Jamie Dixon admits he was oblivious to concerns by Pitt basketball fans that he would leave the Panthers for Southern Cal, abandoning his adopted hometown for his native North Hollywood and his wife's alma mater.
Then Dixon was stopped repeatedly and asked about his future while walking through Pittsburgh International Airport on Saturday on his way to Atlanta to appear on TNT's NCAA pregame show.
By Saturday afternoon, Pitt announced that Dixon had agreed to a new 10-year contract that will keep him on the Panthers' sideline through the 2022-23 season. Terms were not disclosed.
Dixon knows exactly what is expected of him.
This decade-long commitment, which comes two days after a 73-55 loss to Wichita State in the NCAA West Region second round, is one the university didn't invest in former football coaches Walt Harris and Dave Wannstedt after they failed to deliver outright conference championships.
Nothing short of delivering an NCAA title to Pitt chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg will be satisfactory to Panthers fans. Or Dixon, who has led Pitt to nine NCAA Tournament appearances in 10 seasons, three trips to the Sweet 16 and one last-second shot short of the Final Four.
“I want to win a national championship for the chancellor, there's no question,” Dixon said Saturday.
“That was before (this extension). That's from the day I got here 14 years ago. I also know that the journey is never over. You never stop setting goals, even once you get there. When we hadn't gotten past the Sweet 16, that's all we heard. The same with the Elite Eight and if you win a national championship.
“Ask Kentucky: It doesn't stop. That's the thing that amuses me.”
Dixon, 47, has long felt a deep connection to Nordenberg. When Dixon's younger sister, Maggie, died of a heart arrhythmia in 2006, only weeks after leading Army to the NCAA Women's Tournament, Nordenberg arranged for a private jet to fly Dixon's family to the funeral at West Point.
In a statement released by the university only minutes before Dixon discussed his new deal on TNT, he shared his “special appreciation” for Nordenberg, vice chancellor Jerry Cochran and athletic director Steve Pederson, calling their guidance and friendship “invaluable.”
“There's a trust, and I've tried to duplicate that,” Dixon said. “That's the most important thing, who you work for and who you work with. I've said that over and over again.
“That might be higher on my list than other coaches' lists. It's a little different. It's unique. A lot of coaches talk to their ADs once a month and their chancellor once a year. We talk on a daily basis. They're among my best friends. We talked about us and having a long-term commitment.”
Dixon said he didn't understand why the contract is viewed as unique, given that it is his fifth new deal in 10 years.
“It's a testament to him that every time there is a job that comes available, people are looking to him to fill the position,” Pitt assistant coach Brandin Knight said. “A lot of it comes to doing things the right way, not having blemishes on his track record and running a successful program. Every time his name comes up for a job, it should be flattering to him. Everyone who has a struggling program would like to hire him, but that being said, he hasn't gone anywhere or ever given us any indication that he would.”
Dixon has a policy of not discussing job openings but didn't deny that USC was attractive to him and his family.
His parents, Jim and Marge, who sat with Pederson behind Pitt's bench in Salt Lake City, live in L.A. Dixon also heard from his wife, Jacqueline, who went to USC.
“That particular job, that is something that weighs on my mind,” Dixon said.
“My parents are advancing in age. Any child that has parents, that's a concern.”
Dixon, however, also said that “Pitt and Pittsburgh are home.”
As Pitt has experienced success under Dixon, expectations have been raised only to be met with the disappointment that the Panthers haven't beaten a higher-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament and lost to lower seeds in their past four appearances, including a last-second loss to Butler as a No. 1 seed.
“When you lose, we're disappointed and devastated after any loss in the regular season, and it gets compounded at the end of the year in the NCAA Tournament,” Dixon said. “If you win, you think you can win the whole thing. It's a disappointment. We're disappointed, so I can't fault that. We're upset. We wanted to play better. That's consistent with everybody. There's no good losses in the NCAA Tournament. I haven't heard of any of those.
“I'm hoping I'm a better coach every year. I'm striving to be, or you go backwards.”
Pitt recruit Josh Newkirk, a guard from Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C., learned of Dixon's new deal Saturday night through a text message from Knight.
“That's good because now I know he's committed and not going anywhere, so now we can just worry about winning,” Newkirk said. “I heard the rumors and was very nervous. With the news of the extension, I was relieved.”
So were Pitt officials, who want to have Dixon on their sideline when the university leaves the Big East to join the ACC in July. H
e followed Ben Howland to Pitt in 1999, then went from the Panthers' top lieutenant to head coach when Howland left for UCLA in 2003. Dixon has compiled a 262-86 record in 10 seasons for the best winning percentage in school history (.753), and his .658 winning percentage (127-66) in Big East play is the best in conference history.
“Very few programs can match the sustained success that Pitt basketball has achieved during the past decade under Jamie Dixon,” Pederson said in a statement. “As we move forward as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, our future has never been brighter or provided more opportunity.
“In order to maintain and build upon our past success, it was important to our university and athletic department that we make a strong long-term commitment to Jamie. He has been far more than a basketball coach at Pitt, and we are fortunate to have such a high-caliber person representing our university. I look forward to continuing to work with Jamie as he leads our program into an exciting new era in the ACC.”