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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Report: Jamie Dixon, Mick Cronin are top targets for UCLA job

Jamie Dixon

UCLA appears to be closer to concluding its search for a new head basketball coach.

The Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch reported on Monday that the Bruins have narrowed their focus to Jamie Dixon and Mick Cronin for the coaching job. Cronin is currently the coach at Cincinnati, while Dixon is at TCU.

The Bruins apparently view Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, Texas coach Shaka Smart, and former Suns coach Earl Watson as backup candidates. They reportedly want to have a coach in place next week before candidates start getting hired for vacancies.

John Calipari apparently actually met with UCLA and was offered a 6-year, $45 million contract, but he may have just used that as leverage to sign a lifetime deal with Kentucky. Bolch says Calipari was the only big-name coach who granted the Bruins a meeting.

By floating this information out there now, UCLA seems to be trying to manage the expectations for their fan base over the impending hire. Just over the weekend, I wrote that the Bruins were conspicuously quiet about their search and said they should be going after Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Texas Tech’s Chris Beard.

Though we cannot completely dismiss the possibility of Beard or Bennett — the Times says some coaches wanted to wait until after the Final Four before talking about the job — the report about Dixon or Cronin seems designed to let UCLA fans know they’re likely getting a B-list candidate.

Cronin, 47, has gone 296-147 over 13 seasons at Cincinnati. He had more success once the program moved to the weaker AAC compared to the Big East. A concern with him is that he’s never advanced beyond the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. I have my doubts about his ability to accomplish more with the program than Steve Alford did; they seem to be of similar ability. He also seems like he wouldn’t have too favorable handling with the media.

Jamie Dixon took over his alma mater, TCU, which had slipped badly under its previous coach. He turned them into an immediate winner and has put together three straight winning seasons. Prior to that, he took over the Pitt program when Ben Howland left for the UCLA job and took the program to the Tournament in 11 of 13 seasons. He had more middling levels of success when Pitt moved to the more difficult ACC compared to when they were in the Big East and mostly dominant.

Between the two, Dixon is a better option to me as he’s more accomplished, has enjoyed more postseason success, and has competed in more difficult conferences consistently.

Bennett or Beard would be miles ahead of either candidate though, and that’s who the Bruins should really be focusing on.



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