Mac Engel

NIT-caliber TCU should leave Jamie Dixon at least considering UCLA head coaching job

Just as no one should be surprised when TCU misses the NCAA Tournament, if UCLA calls coach Jamie Dixon no one should be offended if he takes it, and or leaves.

Certainly no TCU fan could blame him if he takes an interview when UCLA begins the process of gathering candidates to replace the fired Steve Alford.

TCU, the university, has done everything it could possibly do to hire and retain a coach who legitimized and elevated the brand of a program that was zero when he arrived three years ago.

As loyal and dedicated as Dixon is to his alma mater, the school that he acknowledges gave him a shot as a teenager, he is human. Any coach with Final Four aspirations would be frustrated at what he saw on Monday night, in the team’s home regular season finale against No. 18 Kansas State.

This is the same frustration former TCU football coach Dennis Franchione felt before he left in 2000, and the one Gary Patterson fights the fight every fall.

The crowd, on Senior Night, was pathetic. The latest excuse? It’s cold out there. It’s a school night. While we’re at it, this is probably Obama’s fault, too.

I don’t think Dixon will go to LA and accept one of the least rewarding jobs in college basketball, even if it’s offered, but on Monday night no one could blame him if he thought about coaching at a basketball school in front of a full house, rather than barely 5,000.

“TCU” and “attendance” is a tired trope, but still a point of bewildering frustration.

The first two years of Dixon’s tenure in Ft. Worth were so successful it actually spoiled a fan base that is not exactly unfamiliar with being coddled.

The program, the coach and the players, all deserve just a bit more support from the fans who ... maybe just don’t care enough.

A LOSS WORTHY OF AN NIT BID

TCU lost to No. 18 Kansas State, 64-52, to ensure the Horned Frogs will be sweating like a pig in a sauna on Selection Sunday in 13 days when the NCAA reveals the field of 68 tournament teams.

“I hope we get eight,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said of the Big 12’s NCAA tournament hopes.

And I hope I win the $8 billion lottery today.

Depending on what blind prediction you believe, TCU is an 11 seed, and will make the tournament despite the fact it is 18-12 and 6-11 in the Big 12.

Or, TCU is one of the Last Four in.

Or ... more accurately, TCU has played its way back into the comfortable arms of the National Intramural Tournament.

This is not an NCAA tourney team.

The only reason TCU is even in the discussion to make the tournament is its affiliation with the Big 12; the NCAA has, in the last few years, favored power conference schools over a second-place mid-major team, even if the records don’t make sense.

How else does Texas get in? Or Oklahoma last season?

The best way TCU makes the NCAA Tournament is if it defeats Texas on Saturday in Austin, and can win a game in the Big 12 tournament. At least. That would put the Horned Frogs at the desirable 20-win plateau.

Nothing currently suggests TCU can pull off that “miracle” feat. It has dropped six of seven, and rather than play like a team that is improving late in the season they are collapsing.

TCU COLLAPSING LATE

TCU today is not the same team that was playing so well late in December, or started the Big 12 season with a 12-1 overall record.

The combination of injuries to major players, namely point guard Jaylen Fisher, the sporadic absence to forward leading scorer Kouat Noi, began the process of exposing this roster’s flaws.

Throw in the three players who transferred at the semester break, and any hope of depth was gone. This team basically plays with seven players.

Now add the lack of experience from freshmen center Kevin Samuel and point guard Kendric Davis and you have a team that is not good enough to run with a Texas Tech, Kansas State, or Kansas. You have a team that is not good enough to win road games at Big 12 dogs Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State.

How TCU swept Iowa State defies reason, but the more the Frogs play the more those two wins look like flukes, even if they were not.

They play like a tired team with no confidence.

What was a legit Top 25 team in December is now an average power conference school stumbling in March, praying that it can narrowly steal an invite to a tournament for a second consecutive year for the first time since 1952 and ‘53.

“The progress has been made,” Dixon said, “but we don’t feel real good about it right now.”

The truth about Dixon’s tenure was that he inherited a far better roster than he expected, one with an NBA player; now comes the part of assembling his own players to build a better team.

It would be nice if the fans supported this team a bit more, but this is part of coaching at TCU.

Dixon knows that, it’s a question of whether it bothers him and prompts a potential phone call with UCLA.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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