Meet the Coach Who Led Amherst Basketball to a National Championship
On Sunday, the Amherst College men’s basketball team defeated Mary Hardin-Baylor to win the NCAA Division III championship. The night after the title game, which was played at Atlanta’s Philips Arena, the Lord Jeffs attended the Division I final at the Georgia Dome. Amherst coach David Hixon, who grew up in Andover, has built a powerhouse. He has nearly 700 wins and has led the program to two national championships. This week, Hixon took a break from catching up on his taxes to answer a few of our questions.
So has the last week kind of been a whirlwind for you? Has it really sunk in?
I think it has sunk in. But it’s been non-stop, it really has. The date April 15, which means something to all of us, is upon us. And so I spent the morning doing my taxes. In addition to everything else.
You didn’t have time to do that before, did you?
I really didn’t, so I kept putting it off and putting it off. I came back, and I was fortunate this woman who does my taxes took care of me and gave me this date. I want to call her up and say, “hey, can I have Monday morning?” I thought that might be pushing it. So I went over today and I got it done. But boy, I don’t have a free minute. You throw [taxes] in with everything else. It’s been crazy. A lot of crazy things happen.
You win and all of a sudden … We’re all done recruiting. We’re still trying to get two kids who are regular decision kids who have to make up their mind by May 1. Our application deadline was back in January and all of our acceptances went out April 1. I have more emails from kids that are seniors in high school who either watched the game or read about the game and now all of a sudden they want to come to Amherst, and it’s like, hey guys, we’re like a day late and a dollar short here.
It’s been crazy. I walked the Masters practice round with my dad [on Monday]. When you’re on Augusta, you can’t have a cell phone on you, never mind turned on. If they catch you with it, they take it or they kick you out. They give you a choice. We went on the course at 8 a.m. And we left the course at about 2:30. I turned on my phone just to see what I had—I had to drive another two hours and 15 minutes [back to Atlanta]—and I was driving, not my dad. I wasn’t going to be able to answer anything but I just turned it on. I had like 300 emails and 100 texts. I’m surprised my phone’s still working. It’s gone crazy. I’m down to probably my last third [of emails and texts]. I’ve been trying to answer every one of them with at least a thanks. I’ve got another probably two or three days of hard work ahead of me. It’s all good stuff. I’m hearing from people I haven’t heard from in a long, long time. But it’s wonderful.
How did you swing tickets to the Masters practice round?
I had not been there before. I have a lot of friends who know people who know people. My dad, I guess it was back in November I was talking to him, I said, “hey, I was planning on going to the Division I Final Four anyway,” This would’ve been my 36th straight year. So I said, “look, it’s down in Atlanta, you have any interest in Augusta?” He goes, “do I have any interest in Augusta? That’s on my bucket list.” He’s 84, but he’s never used that term with me before. … I put some feelers out, and I was fortunate enough to get some answers back. And so it all worked out. Then all of a sudden we’re in the championship game in Atlanta and things become a little more complicated. I actually had to ask permission from the NCAA to do the Masters thing, because I had to be with my team to get introduced at the Division I final game. It got a little complicated, but it all turned out super.
Did you get announced during the Division I title game?
We actually got announced at the first media timeout. The television audience wouldn’t see it because that’s when they cut to commercial. But it was on the jumbo screen. A lot of people got film and pictures of it, which is really cool. It was in front of 75,000 people, which is a first for us.
Do you like the fact that the D-II and D-III championships were played in the same city at the Final Four?
Next year it will go back to the normal [schedule] because it’s already contracted out. This year is the 75th anniversary [of the NCAA tournament] and so they tried it. Everybody loved it so much that there’s a lot of talk about after next year starting to do it all the time. The only thing is that if they do it all the time … they just need to re-think Division III basketball. For instance, we’re typically done with our conference, oh around February 12 or 13 or something like that. We had a two-week bye to start the NCAA tournament season right around March 1. All the games were one game per weekend. It just stretches the season too long. And then we had a two-week bye just before the final. They just have to scrunch it together a bit. It won’t be hard. And actually, the [school] presidents will vote for it because if you lengthen the season, then you don’t have to play so many mid-week games, and kids don’t miss classes.
So here’s a question you’ve probably gotten before, but can a really, really good D-III team hang with maybe some D-II or D-I teams?
There’s no question. I’ll just tell you that Dave Paulsen, who coached at Williams, he’s out at Bucknell right now, he thinks we’re probably mid-way in the Patriot League [standings]. I think we can play with the D-IIs. … When Dave Paulsen was at Williams, Davidson was supposed to play Holy Cross, and they withdrew late. And so Holy Cross was looking for a game, Williams was willing to go play them at Holy Cross, OK. So Williams goes, they upset Holy Cross by seven. The next Saturday, seven days later, we beat Williams by 16. … Typically [Division I teams] have more. So if it’s a game that involves fouls or they’re deeper than we are—they have all Division I kids. We have maybe five that could play at that level if we’re really good. We might have three in a normal year. This year we probably graduate three scholarship kids. Going into this year, we’ve had 32 play professionally overseas. Our kids are pretty good.