Midnight Madness returns to Cole Field House
When Maryland announced Wednesday that former star point guard Juan Dixon would be joining coach Mark Turgeon’s staff as a special assistant, there were two distinct reactions.
The first was an outpouring of support for the move, bringing back the program’s most famous face of the past decade, the one who had led Maryland to a national championship, and giving him a chance to get his foot in the door of the coaching profession.
The second was a bit of confusion because, hey, what’s a special assistant?
A special assistant can mean different things to different staffs, depending on who is hired and when in their career they are hired, though the duties remain similar.
As Dixon described it, he’ll be involved in video breakdown, practice planning, academic support, and mentoring of the players who enter the program. He’ll sit behind the bench during games and give input to coaches “when called upon,” but cannot formally coach players in the game.
“My goal was to get into the business,” Dixon said. “First and foremost I just want to learn. When you play the game for so long, especially at the guard position, you tend to learn a lot about the game. Those guys have been extremely successful.”
The special assistant can be a something of a mentor role, like the way St. John’s employs former Purdue coach Gene Keady. Keady, now in his late 70s, is close friend to head coach Steve Lavin and was brought to the staff as supplementary support as Lavin began to build the program in Queens.
Maryland’s move is more similar, though, to what Duke did recently in hiring former player Jon Scheyer in a special assistant role. He is in a similar spot as Dixon, looking to break into the coaching profession. He took on roles that Dixon will take.
The thought is that Scheyer could eventually ascend the ranks and become a head coach.
For Dixon, Turgeon thinks it’s the right move. He points to the success of Danny Manning, a star as a player at Kansas and now the current coach at Tulsa, as a model for Dixon’s growth in the profession.
“I think he’ll be more respected in the business if he starts on the low end and works his way up,” Turgeon said. “Juan wants to be a head coach in college basketball some day so he has to learn all phases of it.”
That’s what now-Butler coach Brandon Miller did. Miller played at Butler, then spent time as an assistant and director of basketball operations under Thad Matta at Ohio State. After a brief hiatus, he took a year to be a special assistant under John Groce at Illinois.
Miller was then hired as an assistant at Butler, then promoted to head coach after Brad Stevens bolted for the NBA to join the Boston Celtics.
Checking classes and planning practices one day, coaching a college program the next.
Dixon will make his debut behind Maryland’s bench on Friday night when the Terrapins host Morgan State at Comcast Center. Tip is at 6 p.m.