Chancellor Lauds Jamie Dixon as Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year

Issue Date: 
February 28, 2011

From left: Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg,  Women’s basketball Head Coach Agnus Berenato, Men’s basketball Head Coach Jamie Dixon, and Athletics Director Steve Pederson at ceremony celebrating Coach Dixon as the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year.From left: Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, Women’s basketball Head Coach Agnus Berenato, Men’s basketball Head Coach Jamie Dixon, and Athletics Director Steve Pederson at ceremony celebrating Coach Dixon as the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year.

(Jamie Dixon, the head coach of Pitt men’s basketball, was named the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year during a Feb. 9 presentation at the Pittsburgh Convention Center. This is the print version of Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg’s introductory remarks for Coach Dixon.)

Jamie Dixon has been the focus of much sports media attention in recent years. Last October, though, he was the subject of a different kind of story. While driving home from his office, he saw an SUV swerve across two lanes of traffic, strike a concrete barrier, roll over, and come to rest on its side. Jamie stopped his own car, rushed to the smoking, overturned vehicle and broke open a window, helping to rescue the two women who were trapped inside.

In his typically humble fashion, he later said that he had just done what “anyone else in Pittsburgh would have done given the situation.” One of the rescued women strongly disagreed. From her hospital bed, she said, “He’s my hero. My kids want to hug him.”

A few days later, our Executive Vice Chancellor Jerry Cochran and I were discussing this incident. A single statement that passed between us captured our shared feelings perfectly: “As if we did not already have enough reasons to love Jamie Dixon.” And over the course of his nearly eight years as the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Pittsburgh, Jamie has given all of us plenty of reasons to love him—as a highly accomplished professional and as a very special person.

In what was not only Jamie’s first year as our head coach but his first year as a head coach anywhere, his team won its first 18 games, the third-best start for a rookie coach in NCAA Division I history; won 31 games overall, a Pitt record; won the Big East regular season title; and advanced to the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen. And rookie coach Jamie Dixon, who many had thought was not ready for the job, was named Big East Coach of the Year.

That extraordinary start was a sign of the good things to come, because Jamie just kept building. In every one of his years as our head coach, his team has won at least 20 games and has won at least 10 conference games and has played in the NCAA tournament. In 2009, to give one telling example, he broke the all-time record for the most wins by a coach in his first six seasons as a head coach, a record that had stood since 1952.

Jamie built that record, it should be noted, while coaching in the toughest conference in college basketball. If you doubt that, just check this week’s coaches’ poll. There are four Big East teams in the nation’s top 10 and seven in the top 15. Think about that for a minute—the seventh-ranked team in the Big East is ranked in the country’s top 15.

Jamie has the highest conference winning percentage of any coach in Big East history. Trailing him, in positions two through five, are John Thompson, Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, and Lou Carneseca— all Hall-of-Fame coaches. In head-to-head contests against Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim, the two active Hall-of-Fame coaches in the conference, his record is 16-7.

Jamie was named Naismith National Coach of the Year in 2009 and Phelan National Coach of the Year in 2010. He was head coach of USA Basketball’s Under-19 Team in the 2009 World Championships and led that team to a 9-0 record and a gold medal, which had not been accomplished by a U.S. team at that age level in nearly 20 years. For that achievement, he also was named USA Basketball’s National Coach of the Year.

Jamie was an all-conference player and also earned all-academic honors at Texas Christian University. He remains a You-Tube sensation for a half-court shot he made to beat Texas. He was voted TCU’s Senior Male Scholar-Athlete and has been inducted into that University’s athletic hall of fame. In addition to receiving his bachelor’s degree in finance from TCU, Jamie earned a master’s degree in economics from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He is the consummate teacher-coach who is committed to the overall growth of his student-athletes.

Jamie’s life has included tragedy as well as triumph. We witnessed his strength, his grace, and his vulnerability when his younger sister Maggie died, at the age of 29, shortly after the two of them had become the first brother and sister to coach their teams into the NCAA tournament in the same year. Jamie was a driving force in creating the Maggie Dixon Classic—which supports cardiac awareness and is played annually at Madison Square Garden in her memory. And Jamie has been an active advocate for a wide range of other worthy causes.

Jamie is devoted to his family. His son and daughter are fixtures at the Petersen Center for Pitt home games. I know he is pleased that his wife Jacqueline and his father Jim are both here tonight. And I suspect that we will see his mother Marge and sister Julie at the Garden next month.

Jamie and I first talked about the possibility that he might become Pitt’s head coach over brunch in New Orleans during the 2003 Final Four. Among the things he said to me that morning was this: “As an assistant coach, one of my main jobs is to make the head coach look good. If you give me this opportunity, I promise that I will make the University look good.” What an understatement! Jamie Dixon has made his University, his sport, and everyone around him look good—both by what he has done and by the way in which he has done it.

It is my great honor to proudly present the 2010 Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year—University of Pittsburgh Head Men’s Basketball Coach Jamie Dixon.