TCU basketball has never even sniffed a Final Four. The Frogs’ one-and-done trip to last season’s NCAA Tournament was their first in 20 years. Overall, TCU has made eight appearances won five games.
Not even in this era of “fake news” and “false facts” can a parallel or comparison be drawn between TCU and UCLA. The Bruins, thanks to the Wizard of Westwood, will likely always own the NCAA record for most men’s basketball championships.
But thanks to UCLA’s clown car administration, the basketball programs from Cowtown and LaLa Land are bound by the connective tissue of an inept coaching search.
Since Tuesday night when TCU’s season ended with a loss in the NIT semifinals, the Jamie Dixon-to-UCLA news has been veering all over the road. He’s going. He’s staying. He’s gone.
It wasn’t until Friday night that the saga ended with Dixon meeting with TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini. According to TCU360.com, Dixon told the chancellor in a face-to-face meeting that he’ll remain as the school’s coach.
“My interpretation of our conversation is that he [Jamie Dixon] plans to stay with us through the entirety of his career and that we don’t have to worry about something like this again,” Boschini said. (Ah, the naivete of school presidents/chancellors.)
Dixon’s dalliance with UCLA put Frogs fans through another existential crisis. Ever since the Southwest Conference folded in the mid-1990s and TCU wasn’t invited to be part of the Big 12, the school’s fans have felt like the children of divorce. They’ve always worried that when they have something nice, it breaks or is yanked from their possession.
Dennis Franchione elevated an awful football program but after three seasons left for Alabama. TCU fans were livid when Franchione, who had accepted the Crimson Tide job, appeared at the Heisman Trophy ceremony wearing a crimson-colored tie instead of a purple tie.
After wandering in the wilderness of the WAC, C-USA and Mountain West, TCU got back to the Big Time with its invitation to the Big 12. Franchione’s successor, Gary Patterson, has built a respected and winning program while turning down several opportunities. Perhaps Frogs fans have been spoiled by their loyal football coach.
While TCU is not a stepping stone like many mid-majors, it remains a job that can be a way station and not a destination. The private school can succeed in football and men’s basketball but it’s a boutique brand.
It made sense for Dixon to leave Pitt for his alma mater three years ago. And in those three seasons, he revived TCU’s program with an NIT championship in his first season and the drought-ending NCAA bid last season.
It also made sense for him to be lured by L.A. and to leave his apparent dream job. The coach that restores the Bruins’ faded glory would be revered and rewarded. Dixon grew up in North Hollywood, his parents and sister Julie live in Southern California. His father is battling cancer and was unable to travel to Fort Worth for games this season.
Which now brings us back to the antagonist in this tale. Dixon wasn’t UCLA’s first choice. The school made a run at Kentucky’s John Calipari, who would have taken a pay cut to change jobs (even if UCLA’s offer was reportedly six years for $45 million). Instead, Calipari parlayed the offer into a contract extension that makes him Big Blue’s coach for his lifetime.
UCLA fired Steve Alford in late December. Then, athletic director Dan Guerrero apparently went on a two-month vacation. During January and February, he had time to back-channel with agents of coaches to check their interest and compile a viable list of candidates.
It’s now been over three months and the Bruins are no closer to having a coach as they were when the dismissal of Alford was announced. Guererro was a member of the men’s basketball tournament committee from 2006-10; if his work selecting and seeding teams was as sloth-like as this coaching search, it’s amazing that we didn’t go five years not getting the bracket until the first round of The Masters.
Apparently, the stumbling block that prevented UCLA hiring Dixon was its pernicious budget. Dixon’s contract with TCU reportedly has a buyout of $8 million. UCLA balked at paying that and TCU refused to budge. The Los Angeles Times reported the buyout was an “insurmountable sticking point for both sides.”
Dixon’s contract with Pitt had a buyout of $10 million and TCU reportedly only had to pay $1 million of that. Who knows what the future holds for Frogs basketball, which now has a coach who had one foot out the door? The Frogs finished the season with just seven healthy scholarship players. Two of those were seniors, so next season’s team could be headed to another NIT appearance.
No matter what happens with TCU basketball in the next few seasons, its fans can reasonably rationalize, “At least we’re not UCLA.” As USA Today’s Dan Wolken wrote of the buffoonish Bruins’ coaching search: “Welcome back to being the laughing stock of the college basketball world, Bruin fans.” The guffaws are particularly loud because it’s obvious UCLA failed in the due diligence of, you know, asking how much it would cost to buy Jamie Dixon out of his contract.
Perhaps there’s something in the West Coast water. The Pac-12 Conference has myriad issues, beginning and ending with questionable leadership by commissioner Larry Scott. UCLA’s cross-town rival USC finds itself embroiled in the college bribery/admissions scandal and has another celebrity/alum athletic director (Lynn Swann) who manages like Michael Scott.
Whoever UCLA hires, that coach knows he is the bronze medalist. (Or maybe, didn’t even make the podium.) Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin apparently gets the next at bat. Former UCLA player and former Phoenix Suns coach Earl Watson might also be on the list. Texas coach Shaka Smart also has been mentioned, but to leave Austin he must be paid the remaining $14 million on his contract. So, forget that.
If UCLA ends up hiring Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, the Bruins bluebloods will likely clutch pearls and complain, “My stars, I thought we were hiring Tony Bennett.”
UCLA is one of those schools bathing in the soothing waters of history. Those 11 national championships, save for the most recent in 1995, are from another era. Alford made it to the Sweet 16 three times in five full seasons. His predecessor, Ben Howland, made three Final Fours but reached (and lost) the championship game only once.
When your administration grovels to find a coach, this is the obvious question: “Is UCLA still a great job?” This much is for sure: John Wooden isn’t walking through that door. Neither is Jim Harrick. Maybe the answer to the “great job question” is that those are your last two championship coaches.
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