Dave Dickerson has often looked for stability in his college coaching career, in part because his own playing career at Marylandwas marked by instability – and tragedy.
Recruited to play for Lefty Driesell, Dickerson had finished his freshman year in College Park when the team’s star, Len Bias, died from a cocaine overdose in June of 1986. That fall, Driesell was fired.
Dickerson’s career at Maryland – the last three spent during Bob Wade’s tumultuous stint – left such a sour taste that Dickerson didn’t wear his school ring for nearly a decade.
"It changed my life, because I didn't enjoy college," Dickerson said in an interview with The Sun around the 10th anniversary of Bias' death. "I didn't have fun. There was always that cloud hanging over College Park."
Dickerson, who would join Gary Williams' staff shortly after that interview, said that it initially impacted him as a young assistant coach.
"I find myself wanting to hang out in the locker room with the players, but I can't," he said "I should have left it behind at Maryland and enjoyed it when I was in college. The only thing I feel bad about is when people associate me with Maryland. I was a part of the worst time in the history of Maryland basketball. In a way, I feel almost ashamed."
That changed when Dickerson was back to College Park as an assistant in 1996. In the nine seasons Dickerson spent at his alma mater, the Terps went to the NCAA tournament in each of the first eight years, reaching the Final Four in 2001 and then winning the school’s first national championship in 2002. He spent his last season, in 2004-05, as associate head coach.
It was during what Dickerson called “a special run” at Maryland that he first thought about becoming a head coach. The higher Dickerson’s profile became as the Terps became one of the nation’s elite programs, the more phone calls he received about coaching jobs.
“During those two years [of going to the Final Four] we didn’t have a lot of time to look for jobs. More so than that, we didn’t have time to pursue jobs,” Dickerson said. “We played up until the last weekend of the college basketball season.”
Ironically, the first year Maryland didn't make the tournament after Dickerson's return to his alma mater, he got his first head coaching job at Tulane. A program that had once been shut down because of point-shaving and later had some success under Perry Clark, Dickerson’s predecessor, the former Maryland assistant thought the opportunity in New Orleans was promising.
Until Aug. 29, 2005, the day Hurricane Katrina hit the Big Easy.
“It was a tough job when I took it on a lot of fronts,” Dickerson recalled recently. "Three years before that there was some talk within the university of going Division III. On the heels of that, there was a lot of skepticism about Tulane basketball and Tulane athletics. Then Katrina hits, which made it an almost impossible job.”
Dickerson and his team – not to mention his wife Laurette and then 4-year-son David III – were displaced to College Station, Texas. The team went to school, practiced and played on the campus of Texas A&M.
“Within my first six months of a job, which is a crucial time in a job, we had no campus,” he said. “We couldn’t bring recruits in on an official visit before the first signing day. The recruiting class that we were working on and had put a lot of effort into just washed away – literally.”
Returning to New Orleans the following spring after a 12-17 season, Dickerson had 17-win seasons the next two years. But Conference USA was dominated by Memphis and John Calipari, and it made things difficult to get the Tulane program where Dickerson wanted it.
“I knew in all likelihood that I would have to make a move or be fired, and the latter happened,” Dickerson said. “I felt that we couldn’t get good enough through recruiting to get the program where I wanted it to be."
After two straight losing records, including 8-22 in 2009-10, Dickerson was fired.
A couple of months later, he was hired as an assistant at Ohio State. Dickerson had known Thad Matta since they were assistants – Dickerson at Radford and Matta at Western Carolina. Dickerson said that he had nearly taken an offer from Matta at Xavier when he was still at Maryland.
Dickerson admits that going back to being an assistant was not easy.
"It was difficult going back to being an assistant coach because I had worked so hard to get a head coaching opportunity,” Dickerson said last week in Pittsburgh, where the Buckeyes advanced to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 for the third straight year. “It was easy to wrap my mind around because of the way things were going at Tulane from my first day there. “
The one thing Dickerson has found in Columbus is something that had only been fleeting during his playing and coaching career – stability.
“It's been great. My wife (Laurette) and my son (Dave III) and I are blessed to be in the situation we’re in now, working at Ohio State and working for Thad,” Dickerson said. “It’s been a tremendous opportunity for us. My wife is from Ohio and her mother lives in Cleveland. My son is the most stable he’s been since we left Maryland in ’05.”
At 44, Dickerson would like another chance to become a head coach. Several jobs have opened up this year, including at South Carolina, not far from where Dickerson grew up in Beaufort, S.C.
“I am not in a big rush because I understand the situation I have now is really good," he said, "but I do want to be a head coach again and I feel this time I will be able to right some wrongs."