Juan Dixon became a legend at Baltimore’s Calvert Hall High School and had an even greater impact at the University of Maryland by leading them to consecutive Final Fours and the 2002 NCAA National Championship. Now Dixon hopes that his Midas touch will work at Coppin State as he prepares to take the reins of the Eagles program. Dixon was introduced as the new men’s basketball head coach, replacing Michael Grant, at an emotional news conference on April 26.
With only a year of heading coaching experience Coppin is rolling the dice on a legendary player who finished 3-25 last year coaching the women’s team at the University of District Columbia. However, with Dixon’s contacts and the potential to sign high impact transfers the Eagles could find themselves back in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Championship hunt faster than expected.
Dixon replaces Michael Grant who was overmatched by moving from Division II Stillman College – an HBCU program in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference – to a Division I program that was considered a legitimate mid-Major before Ron “Fang” Mitchell was released in 2014. In three years Grant led Coppin to a 25-69 record.
Since the primary revenue stream for Coppin State’s athletic program are the big money games where the Eagles earn between $50-80,000 as they barnstorm around country taking double digit beatdowns from high major Top 25 programs Grant’s overall mark is a little skewed. However, his fate was sealed with his 19-29 mark in MEAC play during a three year stretch where Morgan State struggled and the balance of Charm City power could have moved to Baltimore’s west side.
Despite recent struggles the Coppin job is an attractive opportunity that several brand name coaches were interested in. Former Dunbar legend and Maryland star Keith Booth was rumored to have been one of the interested candidates as was former Georgetown assistant Kevin Broadus. Perhaps the biggest slight of all was former Coppin great Larry Stewart, who is currently an assistant at Morgan and has been a CIAA championship winning assistant coach with Bowie State University.
The school has a fertile recruiting base which plays to Dixon’s strength. He knows Baltimore well and will be able to establish credibility with AAU programs on both sides of the parkway. Having played at Maryland and with NBA contacts Dixon is now a conduit for Coppin to bring game changing transfers into the program immediately, which could hasten their march back to respectability in the conference.
Moreover, Coppin State’s basketball arena is second to none and is appealing to coaches and players alike. There is a feeling that if the program could entice more prospects to visit campus and see the facility they would have a better than average chance at signing him. When athletic director Derek Carter was hired last August one of his first charges was to fix the men’s basketball program. Perhaps the first brick in that foundation is hiring Dixon.
As Dixon sets to chart a new course for Coppin State’s basketball program there is one thing that he doesn’t have to sell. The Eagles have won MEAC championships and NCAA Tournament games. One of the biggest March Madness upsets in history came in 1997 when #15 seed Coppin beat #2 South Carolina. They also stunned St. Joe’s in Philadelphia in a first round NIT game in 1995.
Experience aside, Dixon’s hire gives Coppin’s athletic program credibility that only a name like his could sell. He is one of the few names that can build bridges from Charm City to Chocolate City. If Dixon proves he can win as a head coach there is no reason for Coppin not to regain its place amongst the best mid major programs in the country sooner rather than later.