In 2004, James Dickey was on Eddie Sutton’s Oklahoma State basketball staff and was on the list for consideration at Texas A&M, which sought a head coach. A&M instead hired Billy Gillispie, and no one can say that didn’t work out.
A&M had only one winning season the previous 11 years, but in College Station, Gillispie produced an immediate winner. A&M went to the NIT his first year, then went to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. The Aggies lost to LSU in the 2006 second round on a buzzer beater, then lost to Memphis in the 2007 Sweet 16 by one point.
Gillispie moved on to Kentucky, and A&M basketball remains solid today under Mark Turgeon.
In the past few days, the University of Houston searched for a basketball coach. Again, James Dickey’s name was on the list. So was Gillispie’s. Gillispie had been fired after two miserable seasons at Kentucky.
Houston hired Dickey. It’s unclear how much Gillispie wanted the job, whether he turned down the Cougars or they turned down him. Gillispie has had some alcohol issues that could scare off a school president or athletic director.
There are no character issues with Dickey. He’s a first-class person and liked and admired by all who know him. We know him well here in Oklahoma as Sutton’s sidekick most of the 2000s; Dickey coached at OSU from 2002-08 under Eddie and Sean Sutton, and also coached for Sutton back in his Arkansas and Kentucky days.
Dickey also was head coach at Texas Tech for 11 years, and the final four seasons were disastrous. The Red Raiders had four straight losing seasons after being stripped of nine scholarships total in an academic scandal.
But in the previous seven seasons, Dickey had Tech basketball riding high. As high as it ever did under Bobby Knight, for whom Dickey was jettisoned in 2001.
Dickey took Tech to the NCAA Tournament in 1993 and again in 1996, when the Red Raiders were 30-2 and lost to Georgetown in a memorable Sweet 16 showdown. During that era, Dickey recruited five players who made the NBA: Cory Carr, Tony Battie, Jason Sasser, Mark Davis and Darvin Ham.
Tech was big-time good again in 1996-97 when the academic scandal broke during the Big 12 Tournament, and Tech voluntarily pulled itself from post-season consideration. The Red Raiders never got competitive again, and Dickey was fired in 2001 to make way for Knight.
Dickey does not excite Houston U. fans the way Gillispie would have. But he’s an excellent coach and a solid person. Here’s hoping that Houston hoops thrive under Dickey.