Bob Smizik: A ‘chat’ with coach Dixon


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In response to the many thoughtful questions received Saturday, this is the latest installment of ‘Ask Bob and Bob Answers.'

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Joe Lawrence: If you were Pitt's athletic director and were giving Jamie Dixon his annual performance review, what points would you make?

''Come in, coach Dixon, have a seat. As you know, I scheduled this meeting well before last night’s game with North Carolina State -- tough loss -- so that outcome will have no bearing on anything said here.

Since I’m new on the job, I thought it would be best that we have a talk about the future of the Pitt basketball program. On the whole, I’m thoroughly impressed with your work. Although I want all of our teams to strive for the highest goals, I’m not one of those who believes anything less than a Final Four appearance is a failure. We want to strive to have an annually competitive program, which you most certainly have given Pitt. It’s unfortunate that some people think of a 20-win as a negative; think of a bid to the NCAA tournament as their birthright. Neither is automatic and we want to continue churning those out.

''There are a couple of item, though, that have bothered me. One is the team’s non-conference schedule. I’m not so concerned about our strength of schedule or our readiness for the season. Considering your record -- nine NCAA tournament bids in 10 years -- our schedule clearly has not been a hindrance in reaching our goals. I’ve seen no indication our teams have failed to succeed in the conference or tournament due to the pre-league schedule.

''However, I am concerned that our fans are being short-changed with too many home games against weak teams. I want you to be proactive in upgrading the non-conference schedule. I think, for example, John Calipari, a Pittsburgh native, might be amenable to a home-and-home so long as the game on our end is at the Consol Energy Center. Having Kentucky come to town is nothing but a positive for Pitt -- regardless of the outcome of the game. Now that Maryland is leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, it might also be a good partner for a pre-season series. Our fans deserve it. Ohio State would be another option. I'm sure there are others.

''And before you go, one more thing. Your knowledge of basketball is far greater than mine, but I really think you’d be better served with a more relaxed approach on the sidelines. You might, in fact, want to take a seat at times. It might allow you to operate with a clearer head. Now, if you believe it’s important to call out plays, I suggest you designate what would amount to offensive and defensive coordinators for those duties. You need to sit back and manage the game, not micromanage each possession.’’

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Mick Wadowsky: What are your real thoughts of the Pirates chances of success this year?

Success is in the eye of the beholder. There was a time when 82 wins would have been considered a large degree of success for the Pirates.

I expect the Pirates to be competitive this season and to play meaningful late-season games. I don’t think they have the talent to match up with St. Louis in the NL Central but they have a chance to be in contention for a wild-card spot. I’d give them more of a chance if they had make a stronger attempt to upgrade the roster in the offseason.

Finally, no one knows what the season will bring in terms of injuries and unexpected performance both from the Pirates and their opponents.

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John Cunningham: Was Dave Parker a nice man?

I don’t know if ''nice man’’ would be an apt description of Parker. My top two descriptions would be: ''Great teammate and outstanding leader.’’

I love to tell the story of his first day with the Pirates. It was July of 1973. The Pirates were struggling and the call went out to Parker, the Gregory Polanco of his day. He arrived about a week after veteran shortstop Dal Maxvill joined the team. After his first game with the team, in San Diego, I don’t believe he played, Parker came strutting across the clubhouse, in shorts and sandals, walking like he owned the place. If you didn’t know better, you would have thought it was Willie Stargell.

I was standing next to Maxvill: He said, ''I don’t know who he is, but I’m glad he’s on our side.’’

That about sums up most of Parker’s career. Nobody played the game harder. Film of him running to first base should be shown to every MLB player. It was never anything but a 30-yard full-bore sprint. He was a tremendously positive influence in the clubhouse.

He had some problems later in his career, but I hold him in the highest regard.

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David Rosenberg: Do you trust Pirate management's approach this year of giving internal options first crack and not spending on the free-agent market?

You can make the case on an individual basis, and I have, that the Pirates did the right thing in giving opportunities to Jose Tabata and Travis Snider in right field, Andrew Lambo at first base and Jordy Mercer at shortstop. Collectively, however, it’s harder to justify their decision-making and that’s particularly true since payroll remains relatively the same from last year to this year.

I completely reject the notion that they’ll spend in July or August. Not only might July be too late, but there are not -- as some seem to think -- guarantees with such acquisitions.

I guess my biggest quarrel would be with adding only Edinson Volquez to the starting candidates. He’s a worthwhile candidate for reclamation but the Pirates were in more need than just him since they must have known that were not going to be able to keep Burnett and with their being questions about Wandy Rodriguez.

Frank Coonelly recently was quoted as saying someday the Pirates will have a $100 million contract. I’d much prefer to see them first sign a player whose contract is worth $10 million annually.

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Simon Noel: Why did Jamie Dixon ignore the availability of DeAndre Kane, who has been a star this season at Iowa State. With Kane at Pitt, this season would have resulted in more wins. With Kane and a reliable sixth man like D. Johnson, Pitt would have been a top 5 team!

I don’t know why Kane, a high school teammate at Schenley of DeJuan Blair, is not at Pitt but I believe a recent Sports Illustrated story can shed some light:

''He [Kane] arrived in Huntington, W.Va., after a prep year at the Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C., sat out 2009-10 as a partial academic qualifier . . . ’’ This, I would assume, is what ruled him out at Pitt originally.

This is probably what ruled him out for this season:

''Self-control issues plagued Kane at Marshall. He led the NCAA in technical fouls as a freshman and sophomore, with seven each season. In February 2011 he and Johnson were charged with misdemeanor battery after Kane allegedly punched a man outside a Huntington bar, just hours after the Thundering Herd upset Memphis. The case was dismissed in '12. During a closed scrimmage against Miami (Ohio) in the '11-12 preseason Kane -- according to three witnesses -- became so upset with the way teammate Robert Goff was playing that he punched him in the face, causing RedHawks coach Charlie Coles to pull his squad off the floor while the Marshall staff got the Herd under control. Kane denies punching Goff; Goff acknowledges it happened but blames himself, saying, "I wasn't focusing enough on the game."

''The same three witnesses also described an incident on the bus after a March '13 game at Houston, when Kane (who also denies this) threw a nearly full bottle of Gatorade at an undergraduate manager for allegedly screwing up his food order. Because Kane was the leading scorer, teammates said he rarely faced punishment from coach Tom Herrion for his transgressions, which included late arrivals, missed buses and verbal altercations. But Kane clashed so much with coaches and teammates during that season that, according to multiple sources, one assistant coach threatened to leave if Kane wasn't dismissed.’’

•••

Ken Ken: Will the Penn State scandal ever stop being talked about?

When this story broke, I called it the biggest Pittsburgh-related story of my lifetime. And that’s not to suggest it also was not enormous nationally. It had everything a major story needed to grab the attention of the public and keep it. Penn State football has recovered better than I expected from the scandal and subsequent Draconian sanctions. That said, it will be talked about for decades to come.

•••

James Smith: Your bias against Pitt is obvious. What is the reason for it? To generate traffic to your blog?

I believe I am more than fair with Pitt. I have repeatedly defended Steve Pederson against what I considered unfair charges. I have ranked Jamie Dixon as the best coach in town. It has been my experience that some followers of sports teams don’t want fairness. They want continuing favorable coverage -- no matter what. You won’t find that here.

If I wanted to generate Pitt traffic on this site, I would call for the dismissal of Pederson because he’s a raging idiot; demand the firing of Paul Chryst because he can’t recruit; whine incessantly over the failure of Dixon to get Pitt to the Final Four.


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