FORT WORTH, Texas – Jamie Dixon is back at TCU, and the Horned Frogs are hoping their former player can provide a lot more winning moments for the program that has struggled in the Big 12 Conference.
Even before Dixon entered the completely redone arena for his introduction as new coach at his alma mater, his biggest shot as a player was shown on the video board.
It was from 30 years ago when Dixon, then a junior guard, hit a contested buzzer-beating shot from about 30 feet for a victory over rival Texas under the same roof.
“To bring someone home was what we wanted to do,” athletic director Chris Del Conte said. “It was the right time.”
Dixon left Pittsburgh after 11 NCAA tournament appearances in his 13 seasons as head coach. He got a six-year contract from TCU, a place he said he always dreamed of returning to – and a school that had long desired for that to happen.
“This just felt right,” Dixon said.
TCU has won only eight Big 12 games since joining the power league four years ago, and hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1998. Their last NCAA victory was in the first round in 1987 when Dixon was a senior guard and the Frogs were outright Southwest Athletic Conference champions.
“We are here to win, and we are here to win right now, and we are here to win the right way,” said Dixon, relaying what he told TCU players. “I don’t think anybody can sell this place better than I can, because everything I’ve gotten in my life is because of TCU.”
The 50-year-old Dixon was 328-123 at Pitt, where he led the Panthers to Big East Conference regular-season titles in 2004 and 2011 before they moved to the Athletic Coast Conference three years ago. He first went there in 1999 as the top assistant to Ben Howland, who left in 2003 for UCLA.
“I loved every minute of Pitt, and I was excited about it, and we had a great team coming back from an NCAA tournament team. … I wanted to leave a place that I’d worked 17 years at in a good situation,” Dixon said. “I went from a great place to a great place.”
The Panthers twice won 31 games and went to the Sweet 16 three times in Dixon’s first six seasons. But they haven’t gotten that far in the tourney since 2009, when they made it to the Elite Eight, and were left out of the field in 2012 and 2015.
His 216 wins in his first eight seasons with Pitt was a record for a Division I coach.
TCU has won only 181 games over its past 14 seasons under its three head coaches.
Trent Johnson had two years left on his contract after going 50-79 overall in four seasons. The Frogs are 8-64 in Big 12 games since moving to that league in Johnson’s first season. There were 12-21 overall and 2-16 in the Big 12 this season, finishing last in the league that sent seven of its 10 teams to the NCAA tournament.
Pittsburgh went 21-12 this season, losing to Wisconsin on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Gosh, I’d love to go back to one of those,” TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini said when introducing Dixon.
Del Conte has his undergraduate degree from UC-Santa Barbara, where Dixon was a young assistant coach in 1991-92. So the two have known each other for a long time, and Dixon had returned to the TCU campus many times over the years.
The two discussed the Horned Frogs’ move to the Big East, which is where they were headed before the opportunity came to join the Big 12.
After the Panthers’ season ended, Del Conte put in a call to Dixon. Within a couple of days, the deal was done after Pitt officials “softened” a reported $10 million buyout in Dixon’s contract that was through 2023.
“I felt it was the right time, basketball-wise, family-wise, the school, the people I’m working for.” Dixon said. “When we thought it might not happen, that to me was when it was even more certain … we knew we were in the right place.”
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