Pitt's Dixon Goes above, beyond What's Required of Him
Grupp, John, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
On the map, Denver looked relatively close to Flagstaff, Ariz., when Jamie Dixon made an impromptu recruiting trip in the winter of 1995.
The slim athletic budget at the Big Sky school prohibited flying to Denver, so one night, after another Lumberjacks' loss, Dixon hit the road for the 12-hour drive.
He didn't go home for an overnight bag. He didn't go out for a post-game meal. He got in his car and pointed it northeast; past the Grand Canyon on the left and into the Rocky Mountains.
"I said 'We've got to get some guys,' " Dixon said. "So, I just got in the car and started driving. I just left from the arena after a game."
One snowy highway led to another. The trip seemed to never end. An avalanche along the way forced Dixon to spend one bitter-cold night sleeping in his car.
But Dixon made it to Denver, and after two days and two nights of recruiting, he left with commitments from two players, including Billy Hix, who two years later helped coach Ben Howland's Lumberjacks reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Hix is now an NAU assistant coach.
"It was," Dixon said, smiling, as he recalled the memorable journey, "a lot farther than it looked on the map."
Like that adventurous recruiting trip, Dixon has overcome much to travel a long distance. And, by all accounts, he's done it the right way.
The fifth-year coach at Pitt is looking at another lengthy journey that could lead to many rewards when the No. 13-ranked Panthers open Big East play against No. 16 Villanova (10-2) in Philadelphia at noon today in the on-campus Pavilion.
During a time when so many NCAA coaches are villified for a lack of integrity or loyalty, Dixon draws virtually universal respect, both on and off the court.
No Division I coach in the past 25 years reached 100 career victories faster than Dixon, a former all-conference point guard from Texas Christian. His career record of 117-31 equates to the third-highest winning percentage (.791) among active coaches and surpasses Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim and John Calipari.
But it's the balance of competitiveness with humane qualities that leave a lasting impression with players -- past and present -- and other coaches.
"Clearly, the numbers are staggering," said first-year Pitt assistant Tom Herrion, a former head coach at the College of Charleston. "But I think people appreciate who he is and what he stands for more than the wins and the losses. Ultimately, that's what we are judged on."
Pitt color analyst Dick Groat will never forget what Dixon, who turned 42 in November, did this fall.
When Groat was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, Dixon surprised him by flying to Kansas City to attend the ceremony.
Last month, prior to the Pitt-Duke game, Dixon took time to make arrangements for the former Duke basketball All-American and Pirates MVP to be honored at halftime. Groat received a loud ovation from the packed Madison Square Garden crowd.
"I was flabbergasted," Groat said. "I was shocked. I had no idea."
The gesture, however, was not surprising. Groat said Dixon routinely goes above-and-beyond what is expected of a high-profile coach. …