By Chris McCarthy/Editor
After being plagued with a case of the coaching blues over the past few years, Marty Dixon recently found a cure right in his own backyard.
The longtime high school boys basketball coach was hired as Gadsden State women’s head coach earlier this summer.
As Dixon put it, “the coaching bug” he acquired over many years in numerous gyms never left his system, and sees Beck Field House as the ideal place to recuperate. Dixon replaces John Butts, who resigned in June to coach the Albertville High School girls.
“I left coaching because of family reasons, and I guess you’d always like to quit on your own terms,” said Dixon, a Gadsden re-sident and 1982 graduate of Sardis High School. “I just want to pick up where John left off. I certainly don’t want the program to take a step back. I know we have either nine or 10 girls coming back, and they all should have playing experience.”
The Lady Cardinals will be the first female basketball team that Dixon has coached.
“I’m sure it will be a little different,” he said. “I have coached girls softball, but no basketball. With the guys, I know how far I can push them, but it’s different with girls. That will be a challenge for me to start with.
“The biggest thing for me right now is recruiting, but that will be a learn-as-you-go thing. I’ve already called in some favors from friends around the state to help out, and I’ll be calling schools and sending out letters.”
Dixon will meet with the team at some point next week to introduce himself and lay down the rules and guidelines of his program. The 2014-15 Lady Cardinals went 25-6 and advanced to the Alabama Community College Conference Tournament semifinals.
“I’m looking forward to building relationships with the girls,” he said. “I’ve always been a player’s coach, and I don’t isolate myself from the team. I still get together with a lot of my former players. In the big picture of things, it’s still a game.”
With the National Junior College Athletic Association recently reducing the shot clock from 40 to 30 seconds and changing the women’s game from two 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters, Dixon said that the Lady Cardinals would be even more up-tempo then in past seasons.
“I anticipate playing real quick; we really don’t have much of a choice with the shot clock,” he said. “The biggest thing to be determined will be if we can go 90 feet (of full-court press) in both directions. It would be fun for the team and fun to watch. But I really won’t know much about the girls until we roll the basketball out in October.
Dixon, who pointed out that he is big on physical fitness, is working with GSCC strength and conditioning coach Chris Sanford to design and implement a program for the Lady Cardinals.
“Besides being in top shape, we’ll need power and strength to be competitive,” said Dixon. “I like to be able to bulldog people, and I don’t want anyone cutting on us without contact.”
Dixon attended Snead State and graduated from Jacksonville State. He began teaching and coaching boys basketball at White Plains High School, then at Cedar Bluff for two years.
Dixon then went to Hewitt-Trussville for a few years before landing at Pell City, where he spent three seasons from 1998-2001.
Dixon enjoyed his time with the Panthers.
“When I got there, they’d only won about six games in two or three years. In my first year, we went straight to the playoffs. We were the second smallest Class 6A school in the state at the time, so we were playing schools that had hundreds of more kids from which to draw.”
Dixon finished his high school coaching career at Ragland, guiding the Purple Devils from 2001-02 to 2003-04. He then took a job at the Etowah County Alternative School for a few years while he and his wife, Texann, cared for their daughter Anna, who was diagnosed with MLD, a rare genetic disease. The couple experienced tragedy in 2009 when Anna passed away at the age of 9.
“We couldn’t afford a nurse, so it was around-the-clock care [for Anna] for several years,” he said. “The disease was so rare that they didn’t have a name for it. But they told us that she wouldn’t make it to [age] 5, so we basically got four and a half borrowed years.”
Gadsden State athletic director Mike Cancilla said that it’s mainly a matter of Dixon getting his feet wet and learning the ropes in junior college basketball.
“I was very impressed with Marty’s make-up and demeanor, “ said Cancilla. “He’s kind of a quiet and reserved guy, which is not a bad thing. He has a lot of experience with high school basketball, and he’s a local guy. Plus, he’s got a really deep roster with some veteran kids.”
Cancilla noted that Dixon would endure some growing pains, much like any prep coach testing the JUCO waters for the first time.
“I don’t think the X’s and O’s will be a difficult thing for Marty; it’s the transition of dealing with high school boys and women in college. Recruiting is a challenge until you establish pipelines, but he’s still in contact with a lot of his high school brethren. I tell all of our coaches that the first year is the worst year, in that it’s a period of finding out what the league is all about and what they’re up against.”
Dixon is up for the challenge.
“Right now I’m like a one-legged duck swimming in circles,” said with a laugh. “But I do want to thank Mr. Cancilla and the administration. I’m very appreciative of getting the chance to coach once more.”