UH Fans Welcome (To A Degree) New Hoops Coach James Dickey
Well, Houston Cougar basketball fans. It's official. The new head coach of the men's basketball is James Dickey, former head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders, and for most of this past decade, either an assistant coach to Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State or doing TV analysis work.
The announcement was made today, about 20 minutes late, inside the O'Quinn Great Hall at the Athletic/Alumni Facility. Dickey was greeted by the Cougar band, the school's other coaches -- football coach Kevin Sumlin even stepped away from meetings and spring practice to check in -- alumni, players, regents, and the assembled media. School chancellor Renu Khatur said the right things while making the announcement. She wants to win. She wants to win now. She wants the team to win the right way. Athletic Director Mack Rhoades echoes the "win the right now the right way" language. He mentioned that it was important to get a partner who would work with him in moving the school the right way, in the right direction. And he wanted someone who really wanted the job. Someone who knew the flaws, but didn't care about the flaws.
Enter James Dickey.
Dickey said the right things. He saluted former coach Guy V. Lewis. The words "Hall of Famer" were used. He saluted the former great players, and the current players. He spoke of how he overcame the shoddy conditions at Texas Tech when he took over that program in the early `90s. He spoke the talent readily available in the Houston area, and he stressed that he was going to get that talent.
"Our goal, first and foremost, is to recruit and Houston, and the greater Houston area," he said. "There are so many great players in this area, and it's time for some of those guys to stay at home."
He told the assembled hall that this was going to have to be a team effort involving himself, the faculty, the staff, the administration, the student body, the alumni, the fans, and the former players. He stressed time and time again the greatness that was the Houston Cougar basketball team, and he's hoping to use that former success to sell the team to recruits.
In the individual media scrums that followed the introductions, athletic director Rhoades refused to discuss the specifics behind the coaching search. He wouldn't name any of the other candidates, nor give the search criteria. Well, except for two: "Certainly the ability to recruit," he said. "Our greatest asset, absolutely, is the city of Houston. We've had over 200 young men leave within the past four years to go play Division One basketball. His recognition in the city of Houston, and his recognition in terms of Texas, his ability to recruit high-level players...his unbelievable ability to recruit...."
Perhaps the biggest complaint, of the many, leveled about Tom Penders by the fans and boosters was his inability/refusal to recruit in Houston. And one of Dickey's duties as an assistant at Oklahoma State was recruiting Houston and Texas. And he made it clear that he would concentrate his efforts on Houston, going so far as to say that someone on his staff would have ties to Houston and/or the Houston area.
Rhoades' other primary criteria: somebody who believed in building the program and would stick around and really wanted the job for the job, not for moving along to greater fame. "No matter what our facility situation was," Rhoades said. "No matter what our budget situation was, 'I'm just going to get there and I'm going to get it done. And I'm going to find a way to get it done.' That's what we were looking for."
Rhoades understands the feelings of the fans who are upset about the hire, and who wanted a bigger name. But he's unapologetic in his belief that he made the correct decision. "I understand them. I really do," he said. "I understand about winning the press conference and the big splash. And all of that. But proof in the pudding. I'm not worried about these initial three months, I'm worried about a year from now, two years from now, three years from now. I'm worried about building a program. Not just winning teams, but building the program. There's no doubt that Coach Dickey has that ability. He's done it before."
So extrapolating from these comments, and reading between the lines, there's seem to be some truth to the stories that Billy Gillispie talked himself out of the job by complaining about the facilities. Dickey, however, stated that he had yet to even walk over to Hofheinz, so he had no idea of what the facilities were like. But he also stated that he didn't care because no matter how bad they were, he had dealt with much, much worse.
"I wouldn't be here," Dickey said, "if I didn't think we could recruit to this university and these facilities.
"I know what we can accomplish here," he continued. "I know what has been accomplished, and I can't wait to get to work recruiting. I just feel like there are all of these recruits here -- a lot of them have left, and we're going to have some challenges, and we're going to have to build relationships, and we're going to have to work hard. We're going to have to get some guys back here, prove that we can coach and develop those guys, and win basketball games."
I'm still a bit wary about this hire. Speaking to Rhoades, it's clear that he wants someone committed to Houston who won't be splitting anytime soon. And most of the names who were mentioned for the job were thought of as quick fixes looking to make/repair reputations before moving on to better jobs. But if Dickey is really committed to this, and if he really can do what Penders never did and recruit Houston, then it's possible he might be able to pull this job off.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.