Thursday, April 01, 2010

Houston's new basketball coach

In what many Cougar fans apparently wish was a bad April Fool's joke, the University of Houston presented their newest men's basketball coach today. James Dickey, the 56-year-old former head coach at Texas Tech, will take over the program's reigns.

This choice was, well, unexpected. Speculation among UH faithful was that the job was former Texas A&M and Kentucky Coach Billy Clyde Gillepsie's for the taking, or if not him then an up-and-comer like Sam Houston's State's Bob Marlin or Texas assistant Rodney Terry. Dickey's name wasn't even part of the discussion until early this week. When word leaked out that Dickey was indeed the man, the UH fan message boards were sent into a frenzy of teeth-gnashing and wailing. For UH fans hoping for a hire that would bring buzz and excitement back to a program that Tom Penders had rescued from the dead but had taken as far as he could take it, this announcement was a disappointment. Which is understandable, considering that Dickey hasn't been a head coach in nine years and was out of college basketball entirely for the last two.

While at Texas Tech, Dickey had some very good programs, including a team in the mid-90s that went 30-2 and made it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. However, an academic scandal at Tech (for which Dickey was not implicated) brought the program down; his last four seasons at Texas Tech were losing ones. In 2001, Dickey left to become an assistant at Oklahoma State, where he remained until two seasons ago. Dickey's most recent job was coaching a girl's middle school team.

So why were head coaching candidates with more recent experience passed over for this guy? Was Dickey really UH Athletics Director Mack Rhoades' first choice? Speculation as to what actually happened regarding this hire - that Gillespie made too many demands regarding the job or that his past history was seen as a liability to the University - is rampant, but a consensus seems to be forming that Rhoades mishandled this hire. Local sports talk radio host Matt Jackson offered an interesting story about the hire on his blog:
I talked with a coach who was involved with the UH job, and was well aware of the process. His understanding was the following: the search firm in question made the AD aware from the beginning that they did not want to be involved with the search if Billie Gillispie was a target. They had been burned by the Kentucky situation and did not want to have to potentially give any negative feedback about him. The AD proceeded to use them anyway and when they found about it, they pulled themselves out of the process. The AD probably assumed he had BG in his back pocket, but never bothered to run the idea up the "flag pole" of the School President's office to find out if she would approve of hiring Gillispie.

This was no rubber stamp situation. While this charade was going on, "Plan B" Bob Marlin accepted the job at U-La-La. Now Mac Rhodes was in full out panic mode because he insisted on hiring a coach with head coaching experience. A friend of James Dickey's who also happened to have the ear of Mac Rhodes recommended that Mac interview Dickey for the job. Apparently not wanting to hire an assistant coach, James Dickey was the last man standing for the job.
I have know way of independently knowing if Matt Jackson's source is correct. What I do know is that one of my major concerns about Mack Rhoades when he became AD last year was that he had no experience in hiring head coaches while at his previous job at Akron. If this story is true, then my concern was well-founded and my faith in Rhoades' abilities going forward is compromised.

With that said, what's done is done and it's time for the UH faithful to cool off and move on. I have nothing against James Dickey and I hope he does well here. For what it's worth, the Chronicle's Richard Justice thinks he can. If Dickey can recruit locally and put a consistent and well-coached product on the floor - two things that Tom Penders was never really able to do here - then maybe things will turn out fine. Throw some much-needed facilities upgrades to Hofheinz in the mix, and UH basketball might even be nationally competitive again. Time will tell, and I hope for the best.

Right now, however, I'm still underwhelmed. It feels like UH has done nothing more than trade in one retread coach for another.

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