By WILL GRAVES
PITTSBURGH — Jamie Dixon isn’t going anywhere but back to work at the only head coaching job he has ever known.
Pittsburgh and Dixon reached an agreement Saturday on a 10-year contract that could keep him with the Panthers well into the next decade. The deal comes after speculation surfaced that USC was targeting Dixon, a Southern California native, for its open job.
Dixon said late Saturday evening he had been approached by the administration recently to put together a new deal, and things accelerated in the last few days as his name continued to surface.
Now, after the fifth extension he has signed in his decade at Pitt, Dixon hopes people really believe he intends to stick around. Then again, he knows how these things go.
“I thought the eight-year one would have done that but that didn’t do it,” Dixon said with a laugh. “I don’t know that 10 will do it, either.”
Dixon is 262-86 in 10 years at Pitt and has the highest winning percentage of any coach in Big East history. The Panthers went 24-9 this season including 12-6 in their final year in the league before heading to the ACC this summer.
Despite the gaudy conference record, Pitt was given a No. 8 seed by the NCAA selection committee, the school’s lowest since 2005.
While the players expressed dismay over the seeding, Dixon pressed onward. Still, the Panthers were thoroughly outplayed by Wichita State in a 73-55 loss, the program’s worst in the tournament in 20 years.
The defeat marked Pitt’s third straight early exit from the NCAAs. Dixon is 11-9 in the tournament but the Panthers — who missed the NCAAs last spring — have not advanced past the opening weekend since 2009, when they lost to Villanova in the regional finals.
“We’re well aware we can have a good year, and if we don’t perform well in the NCAA tournament it’s disappointing,” Dixon said. “We’re going to be critical of ourselves. That’s what we do. We understand that we need to go deeper.”
Dixon expressed disappointment in his team’s play but optimism about the future in the immediate aftermath. Pitt loses just two players to graduation and has one of the most promising big men in the country in freshman center Steven Adams.
Having Adams in the middle and Dixon on the sideline should help Pitt in its transition to the ACC. Dixon has been diplomatic about the move and joked earlier this month he didn’t have any family in Greensboro, N.C., the frequent home of the ACC tournament.
Still, Dixon also understood the reasons behind Pitt’s decision. He can now focus on how to elbow aside Duke and North Carolina for ACC supremacy, much the way the Panthers have done to the likes of Syracuse and Connecticut over the last 12 years in the Big East.
Dixon came to Pitt as an assistant under Ben Howland in 1999 and took over in 2003 when his mentor left for UCLA. All Dixon has done is lead the Panthers to two Big East regular-season titles and a Big East tournament championship.
Though Dixon has done nothing but continue to deepen his roots in Pittsburgh, he understands that his name is floated out whenever a high-profile job opens. Even with a contract that could keep him in Pittsburgh until his children are in college themselves, he knows he has no control over those things.
“Steve Alford signed a 10-year thing and I heard his name come up the other day,” Dixon said. “It’s really out of your control.”
Still, Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson acted aggressively to make sure Dixon remains as the face of one of the nation’s most consistently competitive programs.
“In order to maintain and build upon our past success, it was important to our university and athletic department that we make a strong long-term commitment to Jamie,” Pederson said in a statement. “He has been far more than a basketball coach at Pitt and we are fortunate to have such a high-caliber person representing our university. I look forward to continuing to work with Jamie as he leads our program into an exciting new era in the ACC.”