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Get real

DePaul shouldn't waste time fantasizing about landing coaches like Dixon

Updated: March 19, 2010, 6:43 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

As breaking news goes, it wasn't much. But when a Twitter post (I loathe the word "tweet") popped up that insinuated Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon is DePaul's top choice to be its new men's basketball coach, I took notice.

Jamie Dixon
John Rieger/US PresswireJamie Dixon enjoys a successful and well-supported program at Pitt.

And then I laughed.

That certainly would be newsworthy that a school that has won one game in the Big East the past two years would have the temerity to consider the coach who has won 28. And to be put him at the top of the list at that!

Why not Wisconsin's Bo Ryan? Or Coach K? Or Villanova's Jay Wright? Or heck, maybe Jim Boeheim is finally ready to hit the "big time" in Chicago after all those years in anonymity in upstate New York.

Of course, it's impossible to prove a negative, so how do we know that Boeheim isn't interested? In reality there's as much of a chance of getting John Wooden to take over as there is of luring Dixon, even with all the money in Lincoln Park.

Of course the Dixon name drop didn't come directly from DePaul's administration. I would hope those involved in the hiring process aren't this unrealistic, because the time is nigh to find a new coach, and there will be the usual competition for the hottest names. So they shouldn't waste any time dawdling over fantasies.

If a source close to DePaul thinks that Dixon would have any interest in leaving his cushy job at Pittsburgh, where all he does is win games and make NCAA tournaments and play in front of rabid crowds at sold-out Peterson Events Center, well, they probably hit the St. Patrick's Day Jameson's a little too much.

I have followed Pitt basketball fairly closely over the past 15 years, going back to the entertainingly mediocre Ralph Willard teams. I have fond memories of driving a carload of friends in my 1982 Buick Century to the Civic Arena to catch some mid-to-late 1990s Big East basketball. When Chad Varga and Vonteego Cummings are in the house, you don't miss it.

So I know a thing or two about Pitt basketball, and I don't see any reason why Dixon would leave perhaps the best situation in the Big East for one of the worst.

But I wanted to make sure, so I did a little digging and spoke to someone, who wished to remain anonymous, who confirmed that there would be nothing to report. Dixon isn't going anywhere this offseason, and probably not for a long while. This is not big news. Dixon, a Los Angeles native who played at Texas Christian, is always seen as a candidate for major jobs. It is rare that he's up for a much worse job. Someone should tell him that Seton Hall is looking, too.

[+] EnlargeJean Lenti Ponsetto
Amy Sussman/Getty ImagesDePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto has set her sights high.

"Jamie has won at a tremendous rate," the Pitt official said. "So he will always be up for potential vacancies every spring. He's always talked about for other jobs."

Dixon's ties to DePaul stem from his late sister Maggie Dixon, who was an assistant for Doug Bruno, the successful women's coach, before taking Army to its first NCAA tournament in 2006. She passed away that April of a previously unknown heart ailment. She was buried at West Point, a significant honor, and there is a tournament in her honor at Madison Square Garden every year. Maggie Dixon will always be spoken of in reverence at DePaul.

But it doesn't mean Dixon is going to coach at DePaul.

Coaches that leave on their own accord usually do so for one of four reasons: They get a better job, they want more money, they don't get along with the administration or they're not getting enough internal support.

None of those apply. Dixon and his athletic director Steve Pederson are close friends, and he's tight with the chancellor and vice chancellor.

Dixon signed a three-year contract extension in September 2008 that runs through the 2015-16 season and is thought to pay him more than $1.5 million a season. The Panthers' home gym is immaculate, and if you want to know how important basketball is to the university, it was built in the location of the old football stadium.

"I can't see how I could leave," Dixon told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after signing the extension. "I don't see how I could have better people to work for. To me, that's the most important thing. I've been in enough places to know that administration is the reason you have success. I believe that."

My guess is that some DePaul loyalists, be they employees or boosters, planted the names of Dixon and Kansas State coach Frank Martin as a way to show coaches that DePaul is willing to make a significant investment in the program.

Too bad Martin signed a major contract extension on March 7 that reportedly bumped his pay from around $250,000 to $1.5 million. All things being constant, why would he leave now?

DePaul Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto, who for obvious reasons didn't mention any coach by name, made it clear in a news conference on Tuesday that DePaul will pay a bigger salary to a deserving coach.

"The board of trustees made a commitment that we should go out and get the best coach DePaul possibly can," Lenti Ponsetto told reporters. "So they have given us the financial resources to be able to do so, and obviously we look to go get the best coach we can and pay them accordingly. It may be that turns out someone who will be very high on the list of paid Big East coaches."

Lenti Ponsetto was smart to get in front of reporters, because plenty of good coaches will find their seasons over in the tournament. And whomever leaked Dixon's name to two different reporters was doing it for similar reasons.

The DePaul AD sagely offered up that the school is only looking for candidates with head-coaching experience. This was a smart move, because it eliminated all the former Blue Demons who are now assistants in college and the NBA. This program needs a steady, experienced hand, not a familiar novice.

If the DePaul crowd is smart, they'll lower their expectations. I would hope Lenti Ponsetto is doing her homework on coaches who would be willing to risk their career path to fix a broken program. Then again, they hired a coach who didn't see fit to bring in a local recruiter as an assistant coach until he was forced to before this season.

Jerry Wainwright's bungling of the local basketball landscape didn't help -- Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter told ESPN Chicago's own Scott Powers that DePaul never offered any of his players a scholarship under Wainwright -- and the school needs to address this problem with its next head coach.

That's why Powers and I, and most everyone else, suggested coaches familiar with the Chicago prep scene a few months ago, head coaches like Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery and Oregon State's Craig Robinson, and promising assistants like Duke's Chris Collins.

Robinson and Lowery seemed like strong fits then. They look less likely now. Lowery had a horrific season in Carbondale, going 6-12 in the Missouri Valley Conference, and missing the NCAA tournament for the third straight year after six straight appearances for the Salukis. Robinson's team picked up toward the end of the season and will defend its title in the College Basketball Invitational. He signed a contract extension, which seemingly shows he's not jazzed about the DePaul opportunity, or maybe he was told he wouldn't get it.

There are still plenty of coaches who would be good fits. Siena's Fran McCaffery, UTEP's Tony Barbee, Northern Iowa's Ben Jacobson, New Mexico's Steve Alford. Baylor's Scott Drew, the former Valparaiso coach and player, would certainly do well. Ohio coach John Groce should be getting a call from Lenti Ponsetto ASAP. He's a nationally known recruiter who helped land Evan Turner at Ohio State and has lured high-major talent to Athens. His teams play defense and hit a lot of 3s. After the Bobcats' blowout win over Georgetown, he'll be a hot commodity. Maybe someone can convince Butler's Brad Stevens to make a huge mistake like his predecessor Todd Lickliter and leave his program for DePaul.

But hey, why waste time on these guys with Tom Izzo out there waiting to be wooed? Someone start a rumor.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.