The college basketball community was left in relative shock when Jamie Dixon left the Pittsburgh Panthers for the TCU Horned Frogs. Minus some much-needed context, here was one of the nation’s very best coaches leaving what is presumed to be a good program for an annual cellar-dweller.
There’s clearly more to it than that.
“I know nationally what people think,” Dixon told Today’s U. “Probably because I’m an alumni, and maybe because I see it from another perspective, but I see something different.”
Dixon wouldn’t go as far as saying this is his dream job, but he did admit that coaching at TCU was something he couldn’t shake from his subconscious.
“I think it is natural,” he said. “Wanting to go back to the place where you started. It was something I thought about when I was a player, when I started coaching, and when the job opened up.”
On the surface, at least in the land of perception and especially from an outsider’s view, Dixon is still taking a giant risk.
Just think about it logically: A name-brand coach leaving a foundation of success he already helped build for TCU? It makes no sense. It also has the feel of the start of a Disney movie that inevitably results in a happy ending.
Still, even in those fictional, too-good-to-be-true Disney films, a struggle is normally needed before the hero achieves the goal at the end of the path. This is apparently not in the immediate Dixon-era plans.
“We [ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla] talked about it,” Dixon said. “That TCU would one day, when the timing is right, compete at the top of the Big 12.”
Despite the optimism, the national perception remained mostly the same after the Horned Frogs hired one of their former players to coach the program. Yours truly thought highly of the hiring, while many others were left puzzled…
… until Dixon began to quickly use his magic on the recruiting trail.
In what can only be considered an expedited growth in the program few could have predicted, TCU did the abnormal in year one of a new coach’s tenure — the program landed high-level recruits.
Considering Dixon had less time to recruit in the 2016 class than others who were already established at their programs, it is astonishing to note that not only is he bringing in a top-50 recruiting class, but he managed to lure top-70 point guard Jaylen Fisher to Fort Worth.
Not too shabby for a program that was previously best known for failing to make the NCAA Tournament every season since 1998.
“Maybe a little bit [surprised] on the guys we got for this year,” Dixon said. “We got three really good guys. You should not be able to get that so quickly. That was a little bit surprising.”
Don’t confuse that modesty with a lack of confidence. Dixon is positive that TCU offers everything a major conference program should, in order to compete at the top of a tough Big 12.
“As far as moving forward, I think if you look at TCU’s baseball, football, golf, so many other things, and there’s proof we can recruit at a high level.”
Now that Dixon becomes yet another big-name coach in the state of Texas — joining Shaka Smart, among others — he knows the importance of “winning the state.”
“I think we do [need to win the state],” Dixon explained.
“When you’re talking about the Texas schools, schools from the southwest, or even nationally, I think we have to do something a little bit different. We’re really a smaller private school, who offers great facilities and a great commitment to build great successful teams. We’re offering a great alternative.”
All of which is fine in theory. Dixon still has a long road ahead to turn the Horned Frogs into a consistent threat in the Big 12. It’s just that he doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
Normally, when a coach takes over a struggling major conference program, that person would want to temper expectations. The optics of setting a high bar with (mostly) someone else’s players can end in disaster. Dixon wants to skip that aspect of his feel-good movie.
“A lot of guys will come in and say, ‘Give me a few years so I can get my guys. Give me some time to bring in more talent.’ I have my guys. They just need someone to help push them in the right direction. These guys are mine, and we’re ready to win now. They’re good enough now.”
Someone call Bob Iger. Dixon is not only equipped to turn TCU around, he’s clearly planning to do so quickly and without excuses.
The Disney CEO might want to pre-bid on these rights.