Juan Dixon, who left Baltimore nearly 20 years ago for College Park and went on to become one of the biggest stars in the history of the Maryland men’s basketball program, is finally coming home.
Dixon, 38, will be the next men’s basketball coach at Coppin State in West Baltimore. Sources familiar with the situation said Saturday that he has accepted the job and will be introduced in the coming week.
In a text to The Baltimore Sun on Saturday, a Coppin State athletic department spokesman said, “Coppin State will be making a statement next week regarding the next coach of the men’s basketball team. Date and time to be determined.”
It marks the first time Dixon, who was the all-time leading scorer for the Terps and the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player in leading Maryland to its only national championship in 2002, will run a Division I men’s program.
After a seven-year NBA career that began as a Washington Wizards first-round draft pick and a brief stay in Europe, Dixon returned to the college game as a special assistant to Maryland coach Mark Turgeon in 2013.
Dixon spent three seasons at his alma mater, but was not retained after the 2015-16 season. Dixon took his first head coaching job last fall with the women’s team at the University of the District of Columbia, a Division II program.
With a team that finished the season with only nine players, including four freshmen and a couple of other newcomers, the Firebirds finished 3-25. The program he inherits at Coppin State has not had much success in recent years.
Michael Grant, who replaced longtime Eagles coach Fang Mitchell in 2014, was fired in March after a third straight losing season. Under Grant, Coppin State was a combined 25-69, including an 8-24 record in 2016-17 when the team lost its first 12 games. Grant earned $144,000 in 2015, according to the state’s public salary database.
Even toward the end of Mitchell’s 28-year tenure at Coppin State, the Eagles struggled to recreate the success he had in his early years. Coppin State had just one winning season in Mitchell’s last 10 seasons, finishing 16-14 in 2010-11.
Coppin State went to the NCAA tournament four times under Mitchell, but not since 2007-08, when the team went 16-21.
The hiring of Dixon, who first gained attention as a skinny guard who was a prolific scorer at Calvert Hall, comes in what has been a momentous year for him personally.
Last summer, Dixon learned that his biological father, Bruce Flanigan, was still alive. The two reconnected after Dixon called Flanigan, a retired Baltimore County corrections officer.
In an interview with The Sun last fall, Dixon said the time he spent with Turgeon helped prepare him to become a head coach.
"I listened and watched everything he did and I saw how he conducted himself on and off the floor, how he ran his practice, how he ran his program, how he recruited," Dixon said shortly after taking the UDC job. "That's the only coach I ever worked for in that type of environment.
"A lot of the stuff we do here, I learned from Coach Turgeon. What I try to do is implement some of the things that I learned, but put my own spin on it. We really like to focus on the detail, which I think makes a huge difference when you're playing a game, and things break down."
Dixon acknowledged that he felt hampered in his role as Turgeon’s special assistant, which under NCAA rules did not allow him to do any coaching on the bench or during practice. Still, players such as three-time All-Big Ten guard Melo Trimble credited Dixon with his development even in a mentoring role.
"I wouldn't have been so frustrated if I didn't feel I could really help," Dixon said. "Standing in practice, I thought, 'Damn, if I could just get this guy [to move] 3 feet, it could make such a difference.' I could help them understand why. I couldn't explain then, and that's what could happen. That was tough."
As difficult as it has been for Coppin State the past decade, the season he spent at UDC gave him a chance to be in charge of a team with even fewer resources than he will have with the Eagles.
"It's funny how things worked out," Dixon said last fall. "I skipped three assistant steps and I became a head coach. I'm learning every day how to run a program, how to coach, how to lead. I feel like I'm prepared and I have a great staff that was here before."
For Dixon, the next stop – and step – will be at home in Baltimore.