Gorman: Dixon proves Pitt made right choice
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Pitt and Wake Forest never had met on the basketball court prior to their ACC game Saturday at Petersen Events Center.
The schools do, however, have a history. One that has sent their programs in surprisingly divergent directions.
When Ben Howland left Pitt for UCLA in 2003, the university's search for his successor centered on a congenial Carnegie native who was the reigning ACC Coach of the Year.
When Skip Prosser turned down Pitt's offer and signed a 10-year contract to remain at Wake Forest, the Panthers promoted Jamie Dixon to head coach.
Dixon, of all people, still endorses Pitt's pursuit of Prosser, which reinforced his opinion that administrators knew what they were doing. Dixon doesn't mind being measured against Prosser, even if he comes up short.
“I said when it occurred, Skip Prosser was one of the best coaches in the country and an even better person,” Dixon said, “so if they'd gotten Skip Prosser, they'd probably had a great coach and an even better person.”
Prosser, of all people, had introduced himself to Dixon after he joined Pitt's staff in 1999. Prosser wanted to talk about the Steelers, Pirates and even Irish literature.
“Not that I'm an aficionado on that,” Dixon said, with a smile, “but I am Irish.”
Dino Gaudio, Prosser's top assistant and best friend since their days at Wheeling Central Catholic, said his boss was torn about whether to come home to Pitt or stay at Wake.
“I know this: It really tugged at him,” Gaudio said. “The thing that made it difficult for Skip was we had just won the ACC regular-season championship. We had a great player, Josh Howard, who had just graduated, but we had a very young team. ... Then we had this little point guard coming that we thought was going to be really good: Chris Paul. I think Skip thought we were ready to take this program to the Final Four.”
Where Wake Forest was hailed for keeping its coach, Pitt was panned for hiring an unproven assistant who had been passed over by Illinois State and Wright State.
Who, of all people, did Dixon bump into at his first recruiting event as Pitt's new coach? Prosser, of course.
“So I go over there, give him a hug,” Dixon said, “and laugh about it.”
When Prosser died of an apparent heart attack in 2007, Gaudio was the choice to succeed him at Wake Forest.
Despite going 61-31 in three seasons — reaching the No. 1 ranking in 2009 — with two NCAA Tournament appearances, Gaudio was fired because of “late-season and postseason performances.”
Wake Forest hired Jeff Bzdelik, who went 8-24 followed by a pair of 13-18 seasons. The Demon Deacons are 11-4 (1-1 ACC) entering Saturday's game at Pitt (14-1, 2-0).
So there's this irony: The school that went for stability has struggled while the one that took a chance got a guy who delivered the best winning percentage in Big East history in his 10 seasons.
“Jamie Dixon wasn't just a good hire but a great hire,” said Gaudio, now an ESPN analyst. “They absolutely did the right thing in hiring him.”
Despite repeatedly turning down other schools' lucrative offers, Dixon still is second-guessed after every early exit from the NCAA Tournament. Never mind the last two tourney losses were to teams that reached the Final Four (Wichita State) and national title game (Butler).
Sometimes coaches can become victims of their own success. ESPN analyst Dick Vitale never ceases to be amazed when he hears Pitt fans gripe about Dixon.
“Certainly, Jamie has done a phenomenal job there as you look at the numbers,” Vitale said of Dixon, who is 276-87 in his 11th season. “People want to be critical. All of these people looking for the unbelievable crème de la crème: the national title and Final Fours.
“That's not there, but if you look at consistency from Day 1 until the end of a season and see the number of wins, the competitiveness in the Big East over the years and what they've done in the development of players, he's been a major, major success.”
No matter how — or against whom — you measure it.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- LaBar: Sting making history fighting for WWE title
- RB Williams believes he’s making seamless transition to Steelers
- White lion Prince dies at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
- No certainty for Pirates’ call-up veterans
- Pitt basketball team starting to get injured players back
- Brashear cornerback Coleman picks Pitt
- Rossi: Continuing legend of Pirate Ray
- Morton inconsistent, Pirates’ bats go quiet in 5-0 loss to Rockies
- Switching roles on defense doesn’t faze Duquesne LB Stone
- CDC lauds schools for better nutrition
- MLB notebook: Mets add bullpen depth, get Reed from Diamondbacks