By Don Markus
The Baltimore Sun
6:00 PM EST, November 27, 2013
In a world where the most minute details quickly become public, Juan Dixon’s discussions with Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon were kept quiet for months.
It was well known that Dixon, the school’s all-time leading scorer and the player most widely associated with Maryland’s run to the 2002 NCAA championship, wanted to work for Turgeon in some capacity. What wasn’t clear, at least until Wednesday, was that Turgeon wanted to bring Dixon back to College Park as more than just an occasional visitor at practice and games.
The legendary Terp and the third-year Maryland coach accomplished that when it was announced that Dixon, 35, has been hired as a special assistant to Turgeon.
Maryland also announced Wednesday morning that assistant coach Dalonte Hill has resigned in the aftermath of a second drunk driving charge in 21 months, and that Dustin Clark, who was the head basketball operations, has been promoted to replace Hill.
Turgeon said hiring Dixon had nothing to do with Hill’s resignation. He said the decision to add Dixon to his staff was a matter of Dixon convincing him that “his playing days were done and that he really wanted to coach.”
“I asked, ‘You sure you don’t want to be [coaching] in the NBA?’” Turgeon said. “And he said, ‘I want to be at Maryland.’ If you guys know Juan, he’s pretty convincing.”
The excitement of Dixon’s hiring and Clark’s promotion was tempered by Hill’s resigation, which came a more than five weeks after he took a leave of absence following a drunk driving incident in Laurel. In his initial contract, Hill had been the highest-paid of Turgeon’s assistants at more than $300,000 per year. The resignation means that Maryland does not have to pay the remainder of Hill’s salary.
Turgeon disclosed Wednesday that Hill was away from the program for “most of April and May” but declined to discuss the reason.
“It’s a sad day for me, because I really, really like Dalonte,” Turgeon said. “I think he’s a tremendous person. That was the thing that hurts the most. I really tried to help. I thing he’s got a lot of qualities that are tremendous. He’s got one thing he’s got to get corrected. ... I hate that it’s come to this, but I do think he‘ll get another chance [to coach]. We’re going to miss him. ... He’s always going to be a part of my family, just not a part of our coaching family anymore.”
It was during Hill’s absence last spring that Clark, who worked for Turgeon at Texas A&M, showed his own recruiting prowess when he helped get a verbal commitment from shooting guard Dion Wiley, who recently signed a national letter of intent.
“Over the years I realized that he was a special talent, Turgeon said of Clark, a 31-year-old Texan. “He was a guy who worked really hard, and he’s very smart and has an unbelievable passion for recruiting.So it’s the next natural step for him. Being here two years and developing relationships, he’s ready. to get on the road recruiting.”
Clark said that he was excited about promotion.
“For seven years I’ve been on the bench, but I haven’t been allowed to coach or instruct on the bench in games or on the sidelines in practice,” he said. “Now I’ll be able to implement the things I have learned.”
While Clark will now be able to coach from the bench, Dixon — as a special assistant — will not be allowed to do any coaching on the floor in practice or on the bench during games, and he will not be out recruiting. But he will be involved in advance scouting of opponents and helping support Maryland’s players academically. He will sit behind the bench and will likely travel with the team, Turgeon said.
Turgeon said he had been talking to Dixon about coming to work at Maryland for “five or six” months and knew that it was likely to happen a little more than a month ago. Dixon said he has been thinking about coaching longer than many would think.
“As far as coaching, this process began many years ago, while playing,” Dixon said. “When I was even here at the University of Maryland with Coach [Gary] Williams and moving on to the NBA [for seven years], I realized that after my basketball career, I wanted to be a coach someday. Today Coach Turgeon has given me an opportunity to be a part of his staff, and I am very grateful for the opportunity.”
Dixon made headlines last month when it became public that he contacted Turgeon and requested that freshman point guard Roddy Peters not wear his No. 3. But Dixon said Wednesday that that situation had no effect on his conversations with Turgeon about joining the staff.
Turgeon said that he, athletic director Kevin Anderson and deputy athletic director Nathan Pine did tell Dixon that he had to be close to earning his degree before they would consider hiring him.
Dixon said he has one exam left in a family research class to finish his degree, and that his motovation for getting it goes beyond this job opportunity.
“I have two boys, and I’m trying to set an example for them and for the kids at the University of Maryland and in our community,” Dixon said.
His college coach, Williams, said he always thought Dixon could channel his passion into coaching after his playing career.
“That’s all part of coaching. It’s not just how much basketball you know, it’s whether you can get through to other players, and I think Juan has that ability,” Williams said Wednesday. “I always thought that was a strength of his. Hopefully he can take that into the next phase, the coaching phase.”
Turgeon said he and Dixon share a common trait when it comes to the schools they attended and the teams they led to the Final Four. In Dixon’s case, he led the Terps to two straight Final Fours and was named the Most Outstanding Player in the 2002 Final Four in Atlanta. Turgeon helped Kansas to the Final Four in 1986.
“Just his passion for Maryland basketball. I know how I felt about University of Kansas when I graduated, and I was around and I coached,” Turgeon said. “Juan has that same passion that I had. He just wants Maryland basketball to be successful. So when you have a guy on your staff who has that passion, he can do nothing but help you be successful.”
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