Jamie Dixon shouldn’t be fired for losing to Wichita State on Thursday.

Anyone who suggests so has a couple screws loose.

Know what else shouldn’t happen?

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson and the big brass at the university shouldn’t engage in a big bidding war for Dixon’s services right now, either.

The simplest way to put it: If Jamie Dixon wants to stay, he’s built up enough equity to stay; if he discusses a job with another school and asks Pitt to sweeten the pot to remain here, Pitt should let him walk.

That’s it.

Two options.

No more.

With Pitt losing to Wichita State in Salt Lake City, 73-55, on Thursday in both teams’ NCAA Tournament opener, all the talk again ignited linking Dixon to the University of Southern California vacancy.

If the time were ever perfect for Dixon to jump to USC, it would appear to be now. Pitt is coming off that loss to Wichita State, the Panthers have sustained discouraging losses under Dixon in the tournament in the past (anyone remember Pacific and Bradley?) and with the program shifting to the tremendously-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference next season, perhaps it could start anew with someone new.

On Wednesday, during his pre-tournament press conference, Dixon was asked about the USC job.

He didn’t express interest.

He didn’t exactly decline it, either, saying, “We don’t talk about other jobs. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”

Dixon, easily, could have stamped out any of the link with his name and USC by saying he wasn’t interested in the job.

His noncommittal answer doesn’t sound, to me at least, like a man definitively sold on staying at Pitt.

And while losses sting deepest in the immediate aftermath, Dixon’s approval rating appears to be at the lowest point in his Pitt coaching career after Thursday’s loss.

If the Twittersphere, message boards and calls to talk radio are a faithful barometer, even some of the most die-hard Pitt basketball fans would be fine with Dixon departing for USC.

There was one thing that didn’t sit right with me after Thursday’s stunning loss.

Just after the Wichita State game, Pitt junior forward J.J. Moore made quizzical statement.

“In the first half, we weren’t ready,” Moore said. “They came out stronger and out-toughed us in the first half. We weren’t ready.”

So wait a minute here, let’s make sure we all have this straight.

Pitt wasn’t ready?

The same Pitt that didn’t play a tournament game last season?

The same Pitt that got bounced from the Big East Tournament by Syracuse on March 14 and had a full week to prepare for a Missouri Valley Conference opponent?

The same Pitt that hadn’t played an NCAA tournament game since March 19, 2011 — a span of a little more than two years?

They weren’t ready?

One of their players admitted they weren’t ready?

That’s downright astonishing and, in actuality — if Moore’s words are factual — thoroughly embarrassing.

After Pitt lost to Butler a few seasons ago in that hectic NCAA Tournament game, last season didn’t make the field and last week got eliminated — prematurely — from their final Big East Tournament, the very last thing anyone should ever have been worried about with this Pitt team was readiness.

Pitt should have been more prepared, organized, equipped and, yes, ready, than anyone in this season’s NCAA field.

Security should have had to be standing ready, keeping Pitt from wanting to take the floor early.

And, the truth here: That falls on the coach. That is on Dixon.

When there are disappointments — even if it is when players don’t perform — it funnels up to the coach. Especially when the disappointments happen more than once in the most crucial situations.

Jamie Dixon has thrust this Pitt program to more than enough high points that there’s no way in the world the university should remotely consider firing him.

In fairness, though, there have been too many setbacks in the NCAA tournament — especially the one on Thursday — where Pitt shouldn’t justify entering a bidding war with USC for his services.

He wants to stay? He stays.

He wants more money or he will walk? Let him.

Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10p-2a on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com.

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