Mac Engel

TCU’s Dixon won’t directly address UCLA connection, but Frogs will be sweating this one

TCU head coach Jamie Dixon shouts at the bench during the second half of a NCAA mens basketball game at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. TCU defeated Oral Roberts 79-62. (Special to the Star-Telegram Bob Booth)
TCU head coach Jamie Dixon shouts at the bench during the second half of a NCAA mens basketball game at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. TCU defeated Oral Roberts 79-62. (Special to the Star-Telegram Bob Booth) Bob Booth

The college basketball season has several months remaining yet one of the game’s most prestigious jobs is already open, which should be appealing to one of our locals.

After a 15-point home loss to Liberty on Saturday UCLA fired Steve Alford as head coach, a position he should neither have been offered, nor accepted.

Upon Alford’s firing the speculation lists of potential candidates to fill the hardest job in college basketball began. On these lists that are not necessarily accurate, but often make perfect sense, is TCU’s Jamie Dixon.

Since there are months remaining in the regular season, do not expect UCLA to move on naming a new coach for a while, which means a handful of programs must sweat longer than usual that their guy is gone.

Reached by phone to address this speculation, Dixon said, “I don’t talk about other jobs. That’s just how I do it. I will say that I work for the best athletic director and the best chancellor there is. And my family and I are very happy here.”

Dixon is a plausible candidate because his record speaks for itself against the best competition in the sport, and he grew up in Hollywood, Calif. He still has family in SoCal.

When Dixon was the head coach at Pitt from 2004 to ‘16, he was routinely linked to numerous openings, which often prompted his employer to give him a raise and an extension.

TCU administrators are confident Dixon will be a lifer here. He is in his third season at TCU, and can pretty much do whatever he wants knowing he has re-set the standard for the sport at a school where for decades there were no expectations.

If he leaves, it won’t be about money.

If he leaves, he will do so to pursue a “safer” route to something he has previously not reached: a Final Four, and a national title game. And, possibly, to live closer to his parents.

When Dixon was an assistant coach at Pitt on Ben Howland’s staff, it was Howland who left in ‘03 to become the head coach at UCLA. Howland led UCLA to three straight Final Fours from ‘06 to ‘08. The Bruins reached one title game, but lost to Florida.

Howland was fired in 2013 because he’s not John Wooden.

Considering the job that UCLA has become, for decades, it would be hard to see Dixon leave TCU for L.A.

Wooden retired in ‘75, but his legacy has haunted all nine of his successors. Since Wooden retired in ‘75, the Bruins have won one national title, in ‘95, under Jim Harrick.

The program has produced NBA players, but chewed through coaches under the now implausible standards set by Wooden in his sport-defining run in Westwood.

Nonetheless, Dixon is an attractive candidate for that job specifically. UCLA is an impossible job, but it is one of the few in the sport that can attract five-star recruits, and talent that make winning a national title more likely, even if the Bruins have done that but once since ‘75.

Alford was a bad fit, and the truth is no coach may be a good one, because neither John Wooden nor his bagman, Sam Gilbert, are coming back to Pauley Pavilion.

Dixon is not apt to go, but with so many months remaining in the regular season TCU is going to have to sweat this one out.

FW Star-Telegram sports columnist Mac Engel rings in the new year with a new Mean Tweets as read by his 9-year-old daughter.

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