Tracy Dildy didn't return to his alma mater as an assistant with the intention of taking a head-coaching job at a rival in the same city four years later.
Indeed, little of Dildy's journey to his new job, a job in what he calls the "basketball mecca," has been ideal.
"My mom always said go where people want you," Dildy said. "I had an opportunity at Chicago State. They were reaching out, and they wanted me."
Illinois-Chicago and Chicago State hired new coaches in July, months after most programs changing leadership have a coach in place. The schools in Chicago have more in common than their spot inside city limits and their late hires: UIC's loss was Chicago State's gain.
At one point, Dildy believed UIC felt the same way Chicago State does now. Dildy left his job as an assistant at UAB under Mike Davis in 2006 to take an assistant's job at UIC, where he was a point guard in the late '80s and later was inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame.
After spending five combined seasons as an assistant at UAB, Ole Miss and Auburn, Dildy said he returned to UIC believing he would become the school's head coach when longtime coach Jimmy Collins eventually retired.
But Dildy said he changed his viewpoint when UIC athletic director Jim Schmidt told him he would be the primary candidate to replace Collins but that the program still would interview other candidates.
"It started changing from the first conversations, where it was a definite," Dildy said. "[Then] it goes from 100 percent to 95 percent. That 5 percent scares me."
Instead, Dildy took the Chicago State job July 12. Collins, UIC's coach for 14 seasons, officially retired July 20. UIC replaced Collins a month later with Wisconsin assistant Howard Moore.
Given Dildy's connections to UIC and his work at some high-profile programs, Schmidt said he understands why Dildy would believe he was in line for the UIC job. But Schmidt also said he never promised Dildy the position. In addition, Collins is on record as saying he didn't tell Dildy he would be the successor.
"It really was never discussed," said Schmidt, UIC's athletic director since 1997. "If you're coming back to Chicago after some significant stints at significant schools, I can understand he might have the impression he'd have. … There was never any verbal agreement. There was never any conversation from Jim Schmidt's part."
Dildy and Schmidt said they haven't spoken since Dildy took the Chicago State job.
"I think I did them a favor and let them off the hook," Dildy said. "This thing could have really turned ugly if that scenario [UIC hiring a different coach with Dildy on the staff] would have happened. What you learn now is that you've got to get things in writing."
Despite the contentious departure, Schmidt wished Dildy luck at his new job.
"I really think highly of Tracy, and I know he's going to do a great job over there," Schmidt said.
Chicago State isn't his alma mater, but Dildy remains in his comfort zone as a coach in the Windy City. He graduated from Martin Luther King High, on Chicago's South Side. His first assistant's job was at UIC, and his longest coaching stint at any school was six seasons as a DePaul assistant under Pat Kennedy.
"My mom always said go where people want you. I had an opportunity at Chicago State. They were reaching out, and they wanted me."
- Tracy Dildy on not waiting to possibly get the head coaching job at his alma mater, UIC.
Throughout his years as an assistant, he's been regarded as an extremely effective recruiter, especially when it comes to the Chicago area. For instance, he recruited Bonzi Wells to Ball State and Quentin Richardson, Bobby Simmons and Steven Hunter to DePaul. Even when he coached in the Southeast, he signed at least one Chicago-area recruit at each of his stops (UAB, Ole Miss and Auburn).
While an assistant with Ole Miss in 2005, Dildy was named one of Rivals.com's top 25 recruiters of the year.
"I'm biased, I guess," Dildy said. "Chicago produces the best talent, pound for pound. The relationships and contacts that I have here can make it a little easier for me to be successful."
But his late start at his new school has put him behind at a program that needs a big influx of talent. Chicago State went 9-23 last season in the Great West Conference, a far-flung Division I league that does not receive an automatic NCAA tournament bid. Basically, the Great West is made up of former independents whose membership in the league makes scheduling a lot easier.
Chicago State was 19-13 in 2008-09, the Cougars' first winning record in 23 years. The school of about 7,200 is on the city's South Side. Dildy replaces Benjy Taylor, who was coach for three seasons.
Chicago State has one freshman coming in this season; forward Sean Montgomery is from Calumet City, Ill., right on the Indiana border between Chicago and Gary, Ind.
UIC is similarly struggling, finishing 8-22 overall and 3-15 in the Horizon League (Butler's conference) last season. For now, Dildy's last recruits at UIC remain with the Flames.
"During this whole process, I had told them I recruited them for UIC and I still believe UIC is the best place for them," Dildy said. "I had that meeting with each and every one."
But Dildy likely won't be as gracious as he and UIC go after the same prospects in the next recruiting cycle.
"I think things happen for a reason," Dildy said. "I am right where I'm supposed to be. I'm in the job I want, and I am enjoying it."