TCU thought it had its man.
Then it didn’t.
Then it did again.
That’s how Monday went for the school and athletic director Chris Del Conte as they worked to secure the hiring of new basketball coach Jamie Dixon.
They had to get him out of a 10-year contract at Pitt, where his buyout was reportedly as much as $10 million. It was made easier by Del Conte’s longstanding friendship with Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes, and Barnes’ correct reading that Dixon’s heart was tugging him back to his alma mater.
“I think Jamie always wanted the opportunity,” Del Conte said. “Bringing someone home was what we wanted to do.”
But money is money, and no matter how much TCU was interested in Dixon and Dixon in TCU, it had to be taken care of first.
We wanted to bring him home, but we wanted to bring him home the right way. The right way for TCU, and the right way for Pittsburgh.
TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte, on Jamie Dixon
“Monday was a long process,” Del Conte said. “We thought we were out. We were in, we were out. We were just going back and forth — a lot of things. We wanted to bring him home, but we wanted to bring him home the right way. The right way for TCU, and the right way for Pittsburgh. That was part of our negotiations.”
TCU’s contingent of Del Conte, Chancellor Victor Boschini, trustees and a faculty representative were ready to take an 8:30 a.m. flight to close the deal. But things weren’t ready on the Pitt side.
“For a second there, we thought it might not happen,” Dixon said.
He might have had the slightest of second thoughts.
“Maybe a little ‘Am I moving too quick here?’ ” Dixon said. “It was a combination of things.”
He smiled. “Fatigue may have factored in late at night.”
If Pitt wanted to keep Dixon, it could. The school could have taken the decision out of everyone’s hands by simply holding him to the 10-year contract extension he signed through 2023.
With a 328-123 record as a head coach, Jamie Dixon ranks No. 9 among active coaches in victories. The winningest coach in TCU history had 205 victories.
But that deal had been done under a different boss and different circumstances. Barnes sensed the time was right for a change for Pitt, as well. He told reporters the school “softened” the buyout.
“I can’t thank Scott Barnes and Pittsburgh enough,” Del Conte said. “He’s a great man, and he was very reasonable. There was no hostility. There was nothing personal in the conversation. It was just, ‘How do we make this work?’ It was fair for both sides, and we needed to be fair for both sides.”
Dixon was given a six-year deal at TCU. Compensation was not announced, but former coach Trent Johnson was paid $1.66 million in 2013, according to TCU’s most recent publicly available tax filing. Dixon made $3.2 million per season with incentives at Pitt.
Del Conte said he went to Pittsburgh with the blessing of the trustees to do what was necessary to get Dixon to TCU.
Many people said this would never happen. As recently as last Wednesday, I told him this would never happen. And he said, of course it would.
TCU chancellor Victor Boschini, on athletic director Chris Del Conte
“He lets nothing stop him,” Boschini said of Del Conte during a news conference Tuesday to introduce Dixon. “Many people said this would never happen. As recently as last Wednesday, I told him this would never happen. And he said, of course it would.”
Truthfully, Del Conte wasn’t always so sure.
He said when he put a call in to Dixon on the Saturday morning following TCU’s loss in the Big 12 tournament, it was just to kick the tires on his old friend’s interest.
“Let’s just see. You know what I mean? You just don’t know,” Del Conte said. “You never know. Let’s have a discussion — what do you think?”
Jamie Dixon led the Southwest Conference in assists in 1987 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance. He was inducted into TCU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007. He has a master’s degree in economics from UC Santa Barbara.
TCU had tried before to hire Dixon. This time, it had an investment in resources, facilities and money on its side.
“The circumstances just weren’t right,” TCU donor Ed Schollmaier said. “He was having too much success up there and being paid too well. We had lousy facilities, except for the practice hall. We didn’t play in a power conference. Now that all has kind of come together.”
By the end of the week, the deal was in motion. Over the weekend, it became clear the sides were close.
By Monday, the TCU plane was fueled and Del Conte was itching to get in the air. The parties were close to the finish line, and they had gotten further than they thought more quickly than they thought.
“It happened in hours, like 12 hours’ time,” Dixon told ESPN Radio.
The 8:30 a.m. flight left at 2 p.m.
When it got back to Fort Worth, Del Conte stepped off, Boschini stepped off, the trustees and the faculty representative stepped off. They turned and smiled at Dixon, who stood on Tarrant County ground again.
“This was just the only opportunity he’d leave for,” Del Conte said. “He turned down a lot of jobs. He wanted to come home. It was the right time.”
And just in time.