TCU AD excited about retaining coach Jamie Dixon, says contract buyout never came up

An argument could be made that TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati aced his first significant test since taking over the athletic program in December 2017.

He kept men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon from bolting to UCLA.

Donati described it as an ‘intense week’ and is beyond happy with the end result. But he isn’t interested in grading himself on the job he did.

“To be frank, I’m really not concerned how I’m viewed in this,” Donati said. “I’m more concerned and more excited for TCU and our fans. The men’s basketball program has retained one of the top coaches in the country. I don’t look at it from an ‘I did this’ standpoint.

“We all work for a wonderful chancellor who makes this all possible. I don’t see this as a personal victory or anything like that.

“I felt in my heart of hearts that this was going to work itself out and Jamie would continue to be here.”

Some may feel Donati didn’t ace it, particularly if a coach such as Dixon had an opportunity and wanted to coach at a blue-blood program in his hometown closer to his family.

Dixon mentioned his and his wife’s parents as being a significant reason why returning to the Los Angeles area appealed to them, and Donati understands that as well as anyone.

Donati spent much of his childhood in athletic departments with his late father, and has a young family of his own.

“For Jamie, it’s family first and anyone who knows him really understands that,” Donati said. “With his parents and sister living in Los Angeles, that gave him pause. I understand that. There’s nothing more important than family.

“I think it was important for him to at least take the phone call and hear them out.”

Donati added that he’ll be proactive in encouraging Dixon, as well as other coaches within the department, to take the time necessary to visit family members. Coaches, by nature, are “workaholics.”

“I told Jamie, ‘Let’s be intentional about that and find ways to get you to Los Angeles more often,’” Donati said. “Jamie is always on campus. He’s the first guy on campus, he stays late, he goes out to events. At some point, you do have to remind yourself to take a break once in a while.”

At the end of the day, Dixon never told Donati he didn’t want to remain as head coach at TCU. And, Donati reiterated, Dixon’s buyout clause in his contract never came up.

Dixon has a buyout “a little north” of $8 million, and that reportedly was the deal-breaker between UCLA and Dixon reaching an agreement.

“No one ever talked to us about negotiating the buyout, or reducing the buyout,” Donati said.

Asked about why universities have buyouts in general, Donati said: ‘Buyouts are in contracts for a reason. When coaches leave, there’s punitive damages. Whether it’s hiring other coaches, or buying out assistants, buyouts are in there for a reason.

“I can’t comment on other schools, some schools have waived them, some schools have enforced them, but it’s our opinion that those are negotiated points in any contract. From my perspective, those are things we agree upon going into the contract. We spend a lot of time talking through contracts and making sure they’re fair.”

As Dixon told the Star-Telegram on Tuesday, Donati confirmed there have been no discussions of extending Dixon’s contract. TCU gave Dixon a two-year extension last offseason, taking him through the 2023-24 season.

Donati said the athletic department is constantly monitoring the market to ensure coaches are compensated fairly, and will continue to do so.

For now, Donati is simply excited about retaining Dixon. UCLA trying to poach Dixon capped a tough season for TCU’s basketball program.

Four players sustained season-ending injuries and/or entered the NCAA’s transfer portal (Jaylen Fisher, Yuat Alok, Angus McWilliam and Kaden Archie). Another player, Lat Mayen, was sidelined the final month with an injury.

Assistant coach Corey Barker was fired after being linked to the FBI college basketball corruption case, as Barker refused to cooperate with TCU’s internal investigation. Players have vouched for Barker to get another chance, but he is not a candidate to return to the staff next season.

And, of course, TCU missed the NCAA Tournament as one of the biggest “snubs” from the Big Dance. TCU played well in the NIT, but ended the season with its worst offensive night under Dixon in a semifinal loss to Texas at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

“This season certainly had challenges, no question about that,” Donati said. “Some bad luck. Some of it was circumstantial. But I was so impressed by the way our guys handled everything, even though we were down a number of players, and impressed the way our coaches handled it when Corey left.

“We didn’t meet our goal of getting back to the NCAAs, but that’s the motivation for next year and beyond.”

Dixon is fully committed to getting TCU back to that level, too, regardless of the UCLA speculation.

There is a reason Donati is being applauded for keeping Dixon on board. This is a coach who has turned the program into NCAA Tournament contenders in three seasons. After all, the Frogs went winless in Big 12 play five seasons ago.

Dixon is 68-41 in three seasons at TCU, and the future is bright with him staying in Fort Worth.

“We’re really excited about the future of our basketball program,” Donati said. “[New assistant coach] Duane Broussard is going to be awesome. We’re talking with some big-time recruits and have got some big-time recruits coming in. I’m really excited about where we’ll go.”

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram