Andy Dixon: Equipped for a bright future
Grill Asmussen about Dixon here
Andy Dixon file
FAMILY: Wife, Cheryl; daughters Whitney (26) and Andrea (25)
ALMA MATER: Wyoming
NFL TEAM: Broncos
BASEBALL TEAMS: Cardinals, Phillies
FAVORITE FOOTBALL MOMENT: Win against Ohio State in 1983. "My boss got me and the other assistant together and said, 'Let's sit back and enjoy this boys.' We did. We watched the place go nuts."
FAVORITE BOWL TRIP: 1990 Citrus. "We had a terrific week of practice in Orlando. Beautiful hotel. Excellent facility. Beautiful weather. Disney World. (John) Mackovic was coach so we played a lot of golf."
WHAT HE WOULD BUY FOR EQUIPMENT ROOM: "Three times the amount of space. When we moved here in the summer of '85, we said, 'What are we going to with all this room?' Six months later, we had already outgrown it."
By BOB ASMUSSEN
Twenty-nine years of cleaning uniforms. Twenty-nine years of packing travel bags. Twenty-nine years of being available when a coach has to have a piece of equipment "right this second."
Andy Dixon has loved every minute of it.
"For me, it's been the best job that I could have possibly had," Dixon said.
The longtime Illinois equipment manager is retiring at the end of June. Well, retiring from the athletic department.
The former Champaign Central star running back, who played at Wyoming, will keep working. He's way too young (56) to be sitting full time in a recliner.
"I'm going to take the summer off, probably spend a little time on the golf course," Dixon said. "Then, this fall, I'll make a decision. I've met with two companies already and I'm meeting with a third next week. I will stay here."
Working in the equipment room wasn't Dixon's original career plan. After finishing his playing days at Wyoming, he went into coaching. First, as a graduate assistant on Fred Akers' staff with the Cowboys in 1976. Next, as an assistant at Wyoming high school power Cheyenne Central.
After a year on the staff at a Las Vegas high school, Dixon and wife Cheryl decided it was time to come home.
"Both our families still lived here," Dixon said. "We were the only ones to ever move away. I wasn't real fired up about teaching anymore. Neither one of us had a job when we came back."
Cheryl found a good job at Carle Clinic. And Dixon went to work in the Illinois equipment room with Marion Brownfield.
When Brownfield retired in 1985, Dixon took over as the equipment manager.
"I didn't think I would move again," Dixon said. "We couldn't wait to get back to Champaign. But did I think I was going to be here for the duration? No."
During 25 years in charge, Dixon's been with Rose Bowl teams (twice) and winless teams (once). He's worked with prep phenoms who didn't pan out and underrecruited high school players who became stars.
Does he have a favorite player? How much time do you have?
"There's a bunch," Dixon said.
Generally, Dixon said, the players have been a treat. Sure, there have been a few who needed extra attention. That's part of the job.
"Most of the kids who come here were big fish in high school," Dixon said. "And they get thrown into the pond with a lot of other big fish. The surprising thing is how many kids who have been here, who weren't considered top of their position throughout the country, and have turned out to be terrific college football players."
Just don't ask Dixon to identify which player is going to be the next star.
"I'm the worst guy at doing that," Dixon said. "Being a former player and a former coach in high school, I expect kids to come in to have the skills and to have the ability to step on the field right away. I'm not very good at projecting down the road two or three years. Kids who come in who I think don't have a clue, don't have a chance, two years later they're all-conference.
"I'm a terrible, terrible judge of talent for seeing the guy the first time. That's probably why I'm in the equipment room and not coaching."
Sometimes, the equipment manager has to be the bad guy. Or as much of a bad guy as Dixon can be. Sorry guys, but you can't have a new pair of shoes every day. They don't grow on trees.
"That's part of the job," Dixon said. "Unfortunately, we have to say 'no' a lot. Our job is to put the best equipment money can buy on the kids so they are safe and it will allow them to maximize their talents. Professionally, we feel what they have is the best that they can have and it will make them succeed. Sometimes, they don't."
Coaches also have their likes and dislikes.
One former head coach at Illinois was very dignified, very professional looking. And he didn't like to wear wrinkled clothes on game day. Dixon won't tell you that it's John Mackovic.
"I loved working for John," Dixon said. "He treated his support staff better than any coach that I've ever seen. If he trusted you to do your job and saw that you could do your job, he left you alone. He never made one change."
There have been some equipment nightmares. Bags getting left behind (he solved that with the help of the Illinois cheerleaders), buses breaking down (not the equipment manager's fault).
The first one Dixon remembers happened during the Mike White era.
On a regular season trip to play Southern Cal in 1986, Dixon was relaxing in his seat when White came to him and asked "Did you get the shoe?" Dixon had no idea what White was talking about.
An assistant coach was supposed to have told Dixon that the team needed a special square-toed kicking shoe for a receiver who had experimented with kickoffs earlier in the week. White's plan was to use the receiver on kickoffs. But the message never got to Dixon.
Instead of going to the hotel in Los Angeles and lounging by the pool, Dixon went on a multiple-hour journey to find a square-toed kicking shoe. Dixon called a friend (remember pay phones) at Cal State-Fullerton who told him about a sporting goods dealer in east Los Angeles. The company has a shoe that fits the receiver and Dixon drives back to the hotel feeling like a hero.
The next day, the shoe goes on. The receiver shanks his first kick. He takes the square-toed shoe off and shanks a second kick. The experiment ends.
"I didn't have a very good trip," Dixon said. "That was my first nightmare."
Dixon said the current staff is equipment manager friendly, though he isn't involved in the day-to-day football operations. That job now belongs to Trent Chesnut, who took over for Dixon after the 2001 season.
When he was dealing with football on a daily basis, the in-season hours were long. They would arrive at 7 a.m. and get home 12-13 hours later. Today, Dixon works a 40-hour week.
Until the end of the month.
Bob Asmussen covers college football for The News-Gazette. You can reach him at 217-351-5233 or at asmussen<@>news-gazette.com.