For Jamie and Maggie Dixon, it has been a long journey from the glitz
and glamour of North Hollywood, California to coaching college
basketball in the Big East beginning in 2005. Maggie Dixon is the top
assistant coach with the DePaul Blue Demons women's team, which makes
the move from Conference USA to the Big East next year. Her brother
Jamie was promoted to head coach of the Pittsburgh Panthers men's
program last year. Their sister Julie does her work in a different type
of court; she is a successful Southern California attorney.
For the Dixons, the journey began growing up in North Hollywood,
where their father Jim was an actor, writer and producer of many motion
pictures. He is best known for his role as Lieutenant Perkins in the
"It's Alive" horror movie trilogy of the 1970's and 80's. For Jamie,
appearing in television commercials was just a part of growing up.
"Where we grew up it was more prevalent," recalled Jamie Dixon. "Alot of
kids did it. I wasn't the only kid doing it in our neighborhood. " He
started appearing in TV commercials at the age of five sitting in the
back seat of a car for a Volvo advertisement. Jamie still carries his
Screen Actors Guild card today. He also played basketball in a beer
commercial that featured a woman dunking over Dixon. "That one happened
by accident really. They were looking for some guys to play basketball
and I happened to have the Screen Actors Guild membership. That's how it
came about. It was the commercial that was on alot during the basketball
season. It ran while I was at Santa Barbara as a graduate assistant. We
would see it while watching film. Players would joke about it and get a
laugh out of it."
Maggie, who is twelve years younger than Jamie, didn't pursue TV
commercials. "My brother and sister were involved in commercials,"
recalled Maggie. "For being what they call the most outgoing of the
bunch. I wasn't really interested in doing it. I took dance and did
things like that, but was never into commercials."
Maggie idolized her older brother and followed in his footsteps.
"Jamie was a local star and I was very much at all of his games," said
Maggie. "He was really my hero growing up. He went to college (at TCU)
when I was about five years old. I just remember being so upset that he
was going, but so proud of him and so excited that he was going to play
basketball." "When he came back from playing professionally, I was just
getting into junior high and high school. He was really the one who
taught me how to start working with a purpose and not just going and
shooting around and really to have a purpose to my work outs. He was a
big influence to why I got involved (with basketball)." "Even though we
were in Hollywood, it seemed like a pretty normal upbringing. It wasn't
as glamorous as I think people might think sometimes."
One thing that this brother and sister duo have in common is their
rapid rise through the NCAA coaching ranks. Jamie was promoted to the
head coach at Pittsburgh after twelve years as an assistant coach at
stops like UC-Santa Barbara, Hawaii, Northern Arizona, and Pittsburgh.
While Maggie, after completing her playing days at the University of San
Diego, contemplated a career in coaching. "I always thought that I'd
become a teacher or teach at some level," said Maggie. "When I got into
high school, I worked a couple camps with Jamie. He was actually
coaching at the University of Hawaii at that time. I went out there for
a summer and helped him coach a camp." "I always just liked working with
the younger kids and it just kind of developed into that. It was just
something that I always enjoyed. I loved basketball and I liked being a
role model to kids and helping out."
Maggie's job search led her to DePaul Blue Demons head coach Doug
Bruno. "I liked her straightforwardness," remembered Coach Bruno. "I
liked her enthusiasm. I thought she was going to have a good rapport
with the players. I really wasn't sure yet how good a teacher she was
going to be. I felt a good energy from her." Maggie began her career at
DePaul University as the Director of Basketball Operations in 2000. She
was promoted to assistant coach the following year. In 2002 when DePaul
assistant Lisa Ryckbosch became the head coach at Illinois-Chicago,
Maggie was tapped to become the recruiting coordinator for the Blue
Demons. "Once she got on staff, she did what she was supposed to do
which was work hard, show that she can teach, show that she can recruit,
and work to relate with the players," said Bruno. "I believe in
promoting from within."
Maggie's job responsibilities involve recruiting and working with the
team's post players. Under her tutelage, DePaul center Khara Smith is
developing into an All-American candidate going into her junior year.
Doug Bruno has helped Maggie Dixon develop as a coach. "Coach Bruno has
been very helpful and wonderful of letting me have input in alot of what
we do on the court," said Maggie. "He has been coaching for so long,
people kind of think he gets stuck in his ways; but he is very accepting
to change and input. I really appreciate working for him and appreciate
him letting me do that."
Maggie is helping to build upon the foundation that Coach Bruno has
laid with recruits. Together they landed the tenth-ranked recruiting
class in the nation for 2004. Freshmen Erin Carney (Traverse City,
Michigan), Allie Quigley (Joliet Catholic High), and Caprice Smith
(Trinity High) will all be playing in Chicago this season. "She did a
great job in getting those kids to say 'Yes'," said Bruno.
The Blue Demons have made the postseason in all four of Maggie's
years at DePaul, which is a testament to the hard work of the coaching
staff. This season DePaul advanced to the second round of the NCAA
Tournament where they lost to the national champion runner-up Tennessee
Lady Vols. Along the way to a 23-7 record, the Blue Demons were ranked
as high as eleventh in the WBCA Coaches Poll and twelfth in the AP Poll,
which were the highest rankings in school history. "The success we had
this past season has really opened alot of doors," said Maggie. "The
amount of times that we were on TV and the publicity that we got after
leading the nation in scoring. The exciting style that we played really
caught the eye of alot of people."
With that kind of success, it is only a matter of time before a head
coaching opportunity opens up for Ms. Dixon. Her brother thinks she will
make a fine head coach someday. "Yeah, she loves it," said Jamie. "You
always wonder when your sister follows you into something. She really
has a passion for it. That's the most important thing. She really enjoys
doing what she's doing. She loves DePaul and loves Chicago. She has
always been a pretty happy person and seems to have fun where ever she's
at." Coach Bruno agrees, "I think Maggie is going to be a great head
coach. I think she's going to be excellent at it. She's got instincts."
Ms. Dixon is in no rush to get into a head coaching position. "I love my
team," said Maggie. "I love DePaul. I love working for Coach Bruno and I
couldn't be in a better place."
At times it seems as though Jamie Dixon is the Rodney Dangerfield of
the Big East conference with the lack of respect that he has received.
When he was hired as head coach at Pitt last year, the reaction of some
critics was that the Panthers should have gone with an experienced head
coach rather than settling for an untested assistant coach. Pittsburgh
native and Reebok shoe representative, Sonny Vaccaro, said at the time
"The Pitt job is an attractive job after what (former coach Ben) Howland
has done. They should be able to attract a top-notch young head coach.
If they screw this up it is their own fault." Vaccaro unsuccessfully
campaigned to have Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez hired at Pitt. One
Pittsburgh columnist went as far as to suggest that the school had found
a way to "screw up". After the Panthers jumped out to a 16-0 start this
season, that columnist retracted those words. How did Dixon handle that
type of criticism? "I think that with any hire, people have their
opinions," said Jamie. "If you know that, it doesn't bother you. I'm
sure that there would have been alot more people criticizing if I hadn't
got the job." Even the interim Pitt Athletic Director, Marc Boehm,
called Dixon's hiring "a hell of a gamble". Well after the Panthers
finished at 31-5, the best record in school history and a NCAA Sweet
Sixteen appearance, that gamble has paid some high rewards.
Even the NCAA Selection committee didn't give Dixon and the Panthers
the respect they deserved. After winning the Big East conference regular
season title, the NCAA powers-that-be gave the Panthers a number three
seed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, setting up a not-so neutral court second
round showdown with the Wisconsin Badgers. "Nobody wants to be playing
where there is an advantage for their opponent, especially where we were
the higher seed," said Dixon. "When it happened, my feeling was that we
didn't want to make it a disadvantage or a negative to complain about
it. It would have taken away our focus of what was at hand. To me it
would have meant that we were defeated if we would have complained about
it. I did not want to give that impression and just wanted to focus on
the task at hand and did not want to have any distractions of
criticizing it. Everybody else in the country seemed to be doing that
for us. It allowed us to really concentrate on the opponent which was
first Central Florida and then Wisconsin." Pitt went on to beat
Wisconsin 59-55 and advance to the Sweet Sixteen where they lost to
eventual Final Four team Oklahoma State.
Jamie Dixon became the first rookie head coach to win the Big East
Conference regular season title. Despite all this success, Dixon still
doesn't get the credit that he deserves. Some suggest that he is riding
the coattails of Ben Howland's success at Pitt. Dixon takes that all in
stride, "I don't really coach looking for respect or accolades. I do it
because of the kids and because I love the game. Those things aren't
what motivate me. I've been here five years. My impact on the program
started five years ago, it didn't start this year. Whether it be
recruiting or coaching or working with the kids. I didn't just arrive
here this past year."
Dixon loses three seniors from this year's team and is rebuilding for
next season. "We've been in the process the last couple of years where
we're losing very good players," said Jamie. " Last year we surprised
some people with some guys that stepped up replacing Brandin Knight,
Donatus (Zavackas) and Ontario (Lett). We had some guys step up that
hadn't put up numbers or had the opportunities in the past. That's what
we are going to have to do again this year. We lose Jaron (Brown),
Julius (Page) and Toree (Morris). You're talking about three guys who
had the most wins in school history over four years. It's going to be a
challenge replacing these guys again. I'm excited about the guys we have
coming in. I'm excited about some of the guys we have returning that may
not have played as much. It's a challenge, it would be easier to replace
bad players, but we're going to have to replace good players. That
becomes difficult at times."
In 2005, five C-USA teams will be entering the new sixteen team Big
East Conference. Both Dixons are looking forward to the challenges that
the new conference will bring. "The Big East was amongst the best
conferences in the country," said Jamie. "It changes from year to year,
one, two, three, whatever. When we get to a sixteen team conference,
there will be no question we will have the strongest conference. It
creates challenges obviously. It makes it harder to get to the NCAA
tournament. It makes it more difficult having sixteen teams fighting for
close to the same amount of spots. We've played in tough conferences
before and we'll take on this challenge as well."
Maggie sees both challenges and opportunities in leaving C-USA for
the new Big East. "I'm really excited about it," said Maggie. "I think
it's a great opportunity for DePaul and for our kids to play at that
level. In Conference USA, people put as the seventh or eighth ranked
league in the country; and it's a pretty tough league to play in night
in and night out. There are some amazingly talented players and great
coaches, and it's not an easy league to play in. We haven't had one team
that's had the kind of success that UConn's had, or even like a Rutgers,
a team that's been in the top 25 consistently. We've sort of developed
into that team, and TCU and Houston have in Conference USA. The
opportunity to go and be in the major media markets as well New York and
Philadelphia and all that. I think it's just an incredible opportunity."
"Also to be in the same league as Jamie is nice." "Recruiting-wise I
think that's going to open alot of doors for us. To get into the East
Coast in New York and Philadelphia and more urban neighborhoods. DePaul
will appeal to those kind of kids."
From North Hollywood to success in Division 1 Collegiate basketball,
Jamie and Maggie Dixon have come a long way, and there is plenty more on
the journey to come.