Pitt Coaching Candidate Wish List: 6 Coaches Panthers Should Target

    Pitt coaching candidate wish list following Jamie Dixon's departure. Here are six coaches the Panthers should target.

    March 22, 2016

    In the wake of Jamie Dixon’s absence, here’s the Pitt coaching candidate wish list to fill the vacant position.

    The pull of your alma mater is strong.

    It was strong enough to pull Jamie Dixon out of Pittsburgh, the place that gave him his first opportunity as a big-time head coach back in 2003. Dixon left Pitt Monday to take over at TCU, where he starred as a basketball player nearly 30 years ago.

    Pitt was a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year, and the Panthers were eliminated by Wisconsin before the weekend. Dixon put together a 21-12 record this year and went 328-123 over the past 13 years with the program, winning two conference championships and earning 11 trips to the NCAA Tournament.

    But ever since the Panthers moved to the ACC prior to the 2013-14 season, Pitt’s fortunes have taken a nosedive. After posting double-digit losses just twice in 10 seasons as part of the Big East, Pitt has lost 37 games over the past three years and hasn’t finished better than fifth in conference play. The move up in competition from the Big East to the ACC was something the Panthers haven’t handled well, and Dixon decided it was time for a change.

    Which now leaves Pitt looking for its next leader. What might a wish list for the Panthers look like? Here are some of the names the Panthers would love to see on their sideline.

    The Pitt Coaching Candidate Wish List

    Sean Miller, Arizona

    As strange as this one sounds, this is getting a lot of buzz in the Panthers community. Arizona is a national powerhouse, and the idea Miller would bolt such a good situation with the Wildcats to head to Pittsburgh seems like madness.

    It’s unlikely, but there has been more than a little talk Miller and his family would like to return to the East Coast someday. Miller played at Pitt from 1987 to 1992, and he was an assistant for the Panthers during the 1995-96 season. He would be seen as a returning savior if he came back. Again, it’s unlikely, but you can bet Pitt will, at least, talk to him in some way about the job.

    Bryce Drew, Valparaiso

    Drew would have to leave his alma mater to take over the Panthers, but he has been more than just a little successful running the family business as head coach at Valpo. He might be ready to take on a bigger job. His brother, Scott, has shown the Drews can be successful at more notable jobs. A chance to move to the ACC might be enough to pull Drew out of northwest Indiana.

    Pitt would provide a lot more exposure and far more resources than he would ever find at Valpo, and if he wants to challenge himself at a higher level, it could make for an intriguing opportunity.

    Kevin Keatts, UNC Wilmington

    Keatts hasn’t been a head coach for very long, but Pitt has shown in the past it is willing to take on a guy with limited head coaching experience when it picked Dixon in 2003. Dixon, after all, had been a head coach for just one year at tiny Te Aute College — 14 years prior to being hired by Pitt. Although he had been an assistant there since 1999, he hadn’t had much head coaching experience.

    Keatts is coming off a trip to the NCAA Tournament, and his team gave Duke all it could handle in a first-round loss. He also has strong recruiting ties from his days as head coach at Hargrave Military Academy, and he spent three years at Rick Pitino’s knee at Louisville before taking on the UNC Wilmington job.

    Pitt is looking to make a splash with its hire, and Keatts would be far from that. Still, he’s an intriguing option.

    Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa

    Northern Iowa reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament and should be prepping for the Sweet 16 right now, but it suffered an epic meltdown in the final 30 seconds vs. Texas A&M and lost in double overtime. But that’s not a knock on Jacobson, a coach who is just 45 years old and already is a three-time Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year.

    His teams have won 30 games in a season twice in his tenure, and UNI has posted a combined 54-17 record over the past two years. The Panthers needed to win the MVC Tournament to get in the Dance this year, and Jacobson might be ready to make the jump to a bigger program. He certainly has proven himself, winning 65.3 percent of his games during his 10 years with Northern Iowa. However, he doesn’t have any real East Coast ties, and although he might be headed to a bigger job sooner rather than later, Pitt might not be the right place in his mind.

    Ben Howland, Mississippi State

    Okay, stop laughing. This isn’t as crazy as it seems. Howland was wildly successful at Pitt before leaving in 2003. He went to back-to-back Sweet 16s, and he won nearly 70 percent of his games when he was running the Panthers from 1999 to 2003. Then he went to UCLA and won nearly 70 percent of his games there (68.5%, to be exact), but that wasn’t good enough for the Bruins, and he was shuffled out the door after the 2012-13 season. He spent the 2015-16 campaign at Mississippi State where the Bulldogs went 14-17.

    So why would he want to go back? And why would Pitt want him? There isn’t really a question about Howland’s coaching abilities. He wins games, and his teams are always competitive. He doesn’t have the best reputation with AAU coaches for some perceived shenanigans back in the late 2000s, but those were mostly southern California-based issues, and he has started to recruit well for Mississippi State. Getting back to Pitt, a place that loved him and that he was successful at, could help him rebuild his image and give him a fresh start in familiar surroundings.

    Gregg Marshall, Wichita State

    Marshall’s name is going to be considered with every big opening, and this is no exception. Marshall has a juggernaut rolling with the Shockers, and he has built a fiefdom at the school in the mold of Mark Few at Gonzaga. Still, Marshall will be losing Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker from this year’s team, two guys who have been through the wars with him. He may be ready for a fresh start. Marshall was successful at Winthrop earlier in his career, and that gave him some East Coast ties. He has proven he can win at every level.

    The question is whether the Panthers are notable enough to move to at this point. Marshall has been rumored for other big-name jobs for the past few seasons, and although Pitt is in the ACC, he might be able to land an even bigger job than Pitt. He’s also getting paid well at Wichita — the 10th-highest paid coach in the country. That means money won’t be a draw.

    MORE: What Jamie Dixon’s Hire Means For TCU


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