Jim Dixon seemed like a grizzly, but was really a teddy bear

·4 min read

Sep. 17—After all this time, I thought Jim Dixon would coach the Sulphur High School football team forever.

It just felt like he would. That's probably because 50 years seems like forever.

Hundreds of Dixon fans and supporters honored him at his funeral services on Thursday at Crossway Church in Sulphur.

Everyone who had any interactions with the big guy has fond stories to tell. Here's mine.

I started covering local sports for The Ada News around 1993 and remember attending my first Sulphur High School football games. Apparently, there was a little bit of friction between the Ada and Sulphur football programs that I had no idea about at the time.

I sought Dixon out to shake his hand and introduce myself for the first time and the big grizzly-bear-like figure immediately gave me a hard time about being for Ada. And it didn't stop after the first visit.

I was a meek, rookie at the time and of course, didn't know the real Jim Dixon. I admit I was a little intimidated.

But to make a long story a bit shorter, our relationship got better and better game after game and I grew close to the big guy — as close as a sports reporter can get to a head football coach. I really cared about him and we welcomed me to Sulphur every time I came to watch the Bulldogs in action.

Dixon always wanted to make sure I knew when the Sulphur Bulldogs were having their annual Media Day so The Ada News could be present.

"He would always tell me to make sure Jeff Cali knows. He didn't care about anybody else, but he always wanted to make sure Jeff over at Ada knew when picture day was," Sulphur Athletic Director Corey Cole, who will now serve as the new SHS head football coach, told me earlier this week. "He loved when you came down and loved visiting with you."

The feeling was mutual. Our interview sessions were always fun and not always about Sulphur football. We'd talk politics (gosh he hated the mask mandate during the peak of COVID-19), we'd talk off the record, just having a good ol' time.

I hated not to be able to watch as many Sulphur football games in recent years since The Ada News sports department became a staff of one. But I still treasured my conversations with Dixon — whether they be in person or over the phone.

Dixon was about to record his 350th career win and that would have been another fun interview and story to right. He finished with an overall win-loss record of 348-191.

Cole said he and other members of the coaching staff would give Dixon a hard time about all those losses.

"We would tell him he's going to break 200 if he stayed here another 10 years," Cole laughed. "He always told us 'those losses are on me and I've got every one of them. But those kids got all the wins. And he really meant that.

Those that didn't know Jim Dixon well, thought he was a hard-nosed, growling, grizzly bear of a coach. The intimidation factor was there. I mean, at times he was a wild man on the sidelines, especially if he thought referees made a bad call against his 'Dawgs.

In reality, he was far closer to a big 'ole Teddy Bear.

"A lot of opposing people see this rough, gruff, aggressive coach on the field," Cole said. "People have told me through the years that "man, that is a wild, crazy guy. He must be a bear to work with but that's not him at all. He's the easiest guy to work with in the world."

I'd expect every single player that made it through the Sulphur football program for four years to tell folks Dixon was tough to play for but that they loved every second of it and were honored to have suited up for such a coaching legend.

"He loves Sulphur. He loves kids. He loves this football program. He loves this community. He's developed a lot of great men in his 50 years at Sulphur," Cole said. "He's been an unbelievable mentor. He did it with tough love and discipline and hard work. A lot of successful men have come through Sulphur because of Jim Dixon and the standard that he had."

Whether he knew it or not, he made an impact on me. It's a relationship that I will forever cherish.

"His legacy is incredible," Cole said.

Dixon didn't get to coach forever and I hate that he didn't get to complete his milestone 50th season at Sulphur.

But you can bet, he'll be watching to see how these Bulldogs finish.