Don't give up on Dixon

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Jamie Dixon should consider himself lucky. The reaction to him and his Pitt basketball team after another early departure from the NCAA tournament Saturday night, though over the top, could have been much worse. Dixon wasn't hung and burned in effigy on campus. Thank goodness.

North Carolina fans did the effigy thing with Dean Smith in 1965, his fourth season as their coach. They must have felt foolish two years later when he took Carolina to the first of 11 Final Fours on his way to two national championships and 879 wins.

I'm thinking Syracuse fans also are glad that Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim has stuck around all these years, 35 to be exact. He didn't get the Orange to a Final Four until his 11th season and didn't win a national title until his 27th.

How about Connecticut fans? They're probably happy they didn't run their Hall of Famer, Jim Calhoun, out of town even though it took him until his 13th season to get to a Final Four. Connecticut won the national championship that season in 1999, won it again in '04 and is a strong bet to do it again this season.

Don't give up on Dixon.

He's going to get Pitt to a Final Four.

He's going to win a national title, too.

I know, a lot of you don't believe that. I received more than 200 e-mails after Pitt's shocking 71-70 loss to Butler, almost all of them blaming Dixon. It was a brutal defeat, the No. 1-seeded Panthers losing to a No. 8 seed in the tournament's first weekend. It was much worse than the 2009 tournament loss when a better, more talented Pitt team -- also a No. 1 seed -- lost in the round of eight to a better, more talented Villanova team.

"Coach Choke!" one e-mailer wrote.

"Pitt is going nowhere and it's time to bring in a new coach," another wrote.

And the one that really made me laugh:

"Mr. February!"


That isn't to say Dixon doesn't deserve some blame for the loss to Butler. That Pitt failed to get a shot off with a 69-68 lead and had a clock violation with 9.2 seconds left was a poor reflection on him. So, too, to a lesser degree, was his decision to have rebounders when Pitt's Gilbert Brown missed a free throw with 1.4 seconds left and the score tied, 70-70. Clearly, Dixon was greedy, hoping for a possible tip-in at the buzzer. Just as clearly, he figured Pitt's Nasir Robinson wouldn't foul in that situation and that the officials wouldn't call it if he did with that little time left. Well, Robinson committed the foul, the officials did call it and, just like that, Butler had an incredible, unbelievable win.

"As always, I'll take responsibility for the loss," Dixon said.

More than a few people were willing to heap it on Dixon, who has taken eight consecutive teams to the NCAA tournament but failed to get past the Round of 16 every season but in '09. He understands the fan frustration and has a healthy way of looking at it. "I wouldn't want to be a part of a program where a loss isn't a much bigger story than the wins."

Dixon has won plenty of games, 216 of them. That's more than any Division I coach has won in his first eight seasons. He has helped Pitt to 10 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (the first two as an assistant to Ben Howland); only six schools have longer streaks. He has helped lead the program to five Rounds of 16 during that decade; only Duke, Kansas and Connecticut have made more. He has helped Pitt become one of just three schools to win 20-plus overall games and 10-plus conference games (in Pitt's case, in the rugged Big East) in each of the past 10 seasons.

You have to be a pretty terrific coach to accomplish all of that.

"Other teams have had drop-offs in the regular season and people get written off, but I think we're about as consistent as anybody in the country," Dixon said Saturday night. "A lot of teams would love to be in our situation."

It's worth repeating:

Dixon understands the criticism directed at him. He said it goes with coaching these days. I say it has always gone with coaching at the sport's highest level.

Can you say burned in effigy?

"I venture to say that a team that's gotten to the Final Four is still getting criticism," Dixon said. "I may be wrong, but I don't think you're off the list at that point. Or if you won a national championship."

Dixon mentioned Calhoun without saying his name. Calhoun took a public beating when Connecticut missed the NCAA tournament last season and again when he was suspended last month for three games next season because of recruiting violations.

Funny, no one is blasting Calhoun now that Connecticut won the Big East tournament this season and looks to be, perhaps, the team to beat in these NCAAs.

It brings to mind something Calhoun once said of the pressure that all big-time college programs face:

"As you build that monster, the monster has to be fed."

I can't argue that Dixon hasn't given you enough in the NCAA tournament for you to be sated. But I will say this:

He will.

I truly believe he will.

Ron Cook: . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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