When Tom Penders resigned last week, University of Houston Athletic Director Mack Rhoades made it clear that he was looking for more than just a head coach of the basketball team. He was looking for a partner. Somebody who would not only turn the team into a winner, but would also grow the program and work well with Rhoades.
The thinking at the time from all of us smart media people was that he was talking about Billy Gillispie, the former men's basketball coach at UTEP, Texas A&M, and Kentucky with whom Rhoades had a preexisting relationship at UTEP.
It appears that, once again, us smart media types were wrong. That is, if the reports -- that the UH isn't denying -- from the Houston Chronicle and Fox 26 are right and the new coach, to be officially announced later today, is James Dickey.
I'm sure that some of you are asking who James Dickey is. And that's somewhat a fair question, seeing as how Dickey hasn't been a head coach since 2001.
Dickey was the head coach at Texas Tech from 1992-2001; he led the Red Raiders to two NCAA Tournament appearances, including one spot in the Sweet Sixteen.. His 1995-96 team went 30-2, including a 16-0 Southwest Conference record.
From 2002-2008, Dickey was an assistant to Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State.
Dickey was ultimately destroyed at Texas Tech by an academic scandal that wrecked several of the Texas Tech sports programs. Though he was found to not be culpable for any of the academic scandals, the NCAA stripped Texas Tech of nine scholarships over the next four years.
The Red Raiders were unable to win for those four years, and Dickey was replaced by volatile windbag Bobby Knight.
We should be finding out later today if this is, for sure, a done deal. But I've got to admit that I'm puzzled by this hire. It was probably unrealistic to expect the Cougars to get Gillispie, despite his relationship with Rhoades, because that was probably just going to cost too much money. But just as I objected to Tim Floyd's name when I heard it linked to the Cougars, I've got to object to Dickey.
Just because the NCAA cleared him of wrongdoing doesn't mean the NCAA won't be hovering over everything that he does at UH. I just don't see the point of hiring a coach that comes with NCAA investigation baggage.
But more puzzling to me is that I just don't see how this move excites the Cougar fan base.
Mock the assertion that the Cougars have a fan base all that you will, but they do have one. And it's this fan base that Rhoades and the school are hitting up for donations and contributions to refurbish/rebuild Robertson Stadium and Hofheinz Pavilion. If they're not excited about the hire, if they don't share the same vision for the program that the AD has, then they're not going to be willing to chip in their dollars for all of the work that really and truly needs to be done on the campus.
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Ultimately, this is a Mack Rhoades decision. And while Rhoades has to deal with the alums and the fan base and the donors, he's also got to have someone around with whom he can have a good working relationship. Because if Dickey can recruit, and if Dickey can build a good relationship with the players and high school coaches in the Houston-area, and if the team can start winning, then ultimately the fan base should start to come around to the decision.
But those are an awful lot of ifs for a program that has been struggling to achieve a presence not only nationally, but in Houston.
I'm a Cougar alum, and as you can see, I have my doubts about this move. James Dickey is definitely not someone that excites me. I would have preferred to see the school make a move for a young, up-and-coming assistant coach if a deal for Gillispie couldn't be worked out.
And I'm definitely not thrilled by the idea that this makes the school a target of the NCAA. But as I've told friends and fellow alums before, in Mack Rhoades I trust. So here's hoping that Mack knows what he's doing. Not only for the good of the basketball program, but for the good of all athletics at the university.