Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Tulane Hires One of the Good Guys

Originally published on "Tulane Insider"

Tulane basketball took a major step toward returning to winning ways last week when the school hired Dave Dickerson as their new head coach. At the same time, the hole his departure left in the Maryland basketball program will make the Terps’ goal of returning to the NCAA Tournament more difficult to achieve.

More than that, however, is the fact that Dickerson is truly one of the “good guys”. As a Maryland alumnus myself and someone who has covered Terrapin basketball, he is the type of individual I hate to see leave the school.

Dickerson is also a Maryland alum. He played varsity basketball there as a 6”6” swingman from the 1985-86 season through 1988-89, the darkest period in Terrapin basketball history. Len Bias, one of the greatest athletes ever to wear a Maryland uniform, died from a drug overdose following Dickerson’s freshman year.

Bias’ death began a chain of events that led to coach Lefty Driesell being replaced by Bob Wade, an extremely successful high school coach with no college experience, only weeks prior to the start of the 1986-87 season. A depleted roster created the opportunity for Dickerson to gain moreplaying time, but the Terps stumbled to a 0-14 ACC record and finished 9-17 overall, the school’s first losing season in 18 years.

Dickerson’s playing time dropped in his junior year, as Wade brought in a new and talented group of players that led Maryland back to the NCAA tournament. It was a brief revival, however, when a mass exodus of players following the season and a looming NCAA investigation doomed Maryland to a 1-13, 9-20 record in 1988-89. Wade was ultimately dismissed following that season, and the NCAA slapped the school with two years of probation.

Understandably, Dickerson later reflected on how his experience playing at Maryland did not bring him much joy. His best season statistically was as a sophomore in 1986-87, when he averaged 8.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 33 minutes per game. His career averages were 5.2 points and 3.3 rebounds and 20 minutes a game and he was a team captain as a senior.

Dickerson determined that pro basketball was not in his future, but his experience as a player had not soured him on the game itself. He stayed at the schoolto complete his degree requirements in government and politics in 1990 and then embarked on a successful career as an assistant coach.

Dickerson spent the 1990-91 season at Gardner-Webb, then moved to James Madison to work for Driesell the following year. Another Maryland connection, Radford head coach and former Terp assistant Ron Bradley, had coached Dickerson at Maryland and hired him for the 1992-93 season. Dickerson stayed there four years, a period regarded as one of the best in Radford’s history.

Gary Williams offered Dickerson an opportunity to return to his Alma Matter in 1996. With Dickerson receiving credit for recruiting such stars as Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, and Chris Wilcox, Williams let Maryland to their first Final Four appearance in 2001 and the school’s only national championship in 2002.

Dickerson was promoted to the lead assistant slot before the 2001-02 season, where he served until last week. He was also named Assistant Coach of the Year in 2003 by Coach and Athletic Director Magazine.

I’ve presented a very impressive resume for Dave Dickerson, and here is what I believe Tulane will see in their new head coach:

First and foremost, Dickerson is a class act. From the way he presents himself, always sharply dressed with nothing out of place, to his approachability, Dickerson will represent the Green Wave basketball program in a way the school and its fans can be proud of. He won’t be a gregarious personality or throw out a bunch of one-liners, but he will honestly and sincerely answer questions and tirelessly work to promote Tulane University and its basketball program

Second, Dickerson will do things the right way. While spending some time around the Maryland basketball program and speaking with some of the media that covered them over a period of years, I never heard a single negative word about Dave Dickerson. From the way he recruits to the way he treats players once they are on campus, he maintains very high ethical standards.

Third, Dickerson is a competitor. When watching the activity on the Maryland sidelines for the last nine years, Dickerson was always the calm and composed one. Gary Williams and other assistants were the ones screaming bad words, gyrating, and sweating profusely. Don’t be fooled by that. There are very successful coaches like Arizona’s Lute Olson who are intense competitors without sweating through their suits or using language that would make a sailor blush, and I firmly believe Dickerson will be another one.

On a personal note,one of my favorite memories over the last seven seasons of covering ACC basketball is the evening I spent with Dave Dickerson scouting a high school basketball game.

The meeting was purely by chance. I rarely go to high school games myself, but I was covering a prospect at my old high school in Maryland for a recruiting web site. As I was waking into the gym, I literally bumped into Dickerson, who was trying to get oriented. He remembered me and asked me if I knew a good spot to sit and watch the game. I told him he had asked the right guy and let him to a good vantage point in the bleachers.

I spent that evening just talking hoops with Dickerson, from what he was looking for in a player to dissecting the current Maryland team and many topics in-between, all of it off the record. He couldn’t have been nicer to me, a writer way down on the food chain who was in no position to be of any value to him. He simply enjoyed having someone reasonably knowledgeable about basketball tospend the evening chatting with. I was fortunate enough to have several more pleasant conversations with him in the following years.

It would be presumptuous of me to think of Dave Dickerson as a friend, but I am certainly pulling for his success. I found him to be the type of man for whom you want to see good things happen. Even though it is a loss for my school, I am very happy that Dickerson has the opportunity to run his own basketball program.

I think Tulane fans will enjoy the style of basketball Dickerson will want his team to play (up-tempo, probably with some full-court pressure) and appreciate the type of people he will bring into the program. I am sure they will enjoy winning, which Dickerson has done at every stop in his coaching career.

I know one other thing—there will be at least one fan back in Maryland rooting for the Green Wave when they take the court next year.