Even to casual observers at an East Hall High boys basketball game, it doesn’t take long to spot Vikings coach Joe Dix.
They usually hear him first, unable to tune out the raspy voice barking out commands over the sound of squeaking sneakers and bouncing balls. Dix’s mannerisms on the sideline can be even harder to ignore, though his animated gesticulations are sometimes more entertaining than the game playing out on the court.
“The average fan might see him for the first time and think, ‘Man, that guy is crazy,’” said longtime area coach Seth Vining, who coached alongside Dix for eight years at East Hall. “But for the players who played under him, they’re used to it and they respond to it.”
While Dix’s antics have made him a fan favorite during his 14 years with the Vikings, his tenure is defined by something even greater — winning.
Dix achieved his 300th career victory last Tuesday night, another milestone in a career dotted with major achievements. He received an outpouring of congratulations on social media following the Vikings’ 90-49 win against Fannin County, illustrating just how beloved the boisterous coach is among his peers.
Many coaches and former players who sent Dix congratulatory messages on Twitter noted that several of his victories came at their expense.
“Some of them were guys I mentored, and some of them mentored me,” Dix said. “ … It was a good mix, and I was honored that they would do that. It’s just 300 wins, not like it’s 1,000 or anything like that, but a lot of guys did send me well wishes.”
Not surprising for the man who oversees one of Northeast Georgia’s powerhouse programs.
In 2004, Dix took over at East Hall at the height of its dominance, which he helped cultivate as an eight-year assistant on Vining’s staff. The Vikings won state championships in 2001 and 2003 before Vining took the coaching job at Lakeview Academy.
As then-East Hall principal Bill Sloan searched for the right person to maintain East Hall’s success on the hardwood, Vining made it known who he thought should take the reins.
“I wanted Joe to be the person to succeed me,” Vining said “ … In the eight years he was there, we won two state titles and were second a couple times. He had been big part of that. For that reason, I thought he would be the right person to continue what we had accomplished.”
Dix immediately proved him right.
The Vikings completed arguably their most dominant run to a state title in his first season at the helm. Though the program hasn’t won a championship since, Dix has been to three state semifinals, won five Lanierland titles, earned six region championships and has missed the playoffs only once.
Both Dix and Vining, who won more than 700 games during his illustrious career, said sustaining such success ultimately boils down to having good players. But Vining said his successor’s ability to relate to his kids allows him to further tap into their talent.
“We try to build individual relationships with the kids in our program to the point where we can talk about anything,” Dix said. “A lot of what they talk with me about has nothing to do with basketball: Girlfriends, their futures, what they want to do with their lives. They ask about what I’d do in certain situations.
“Because of that, you’re able to be a little tougher with them on the floor. They know you value them and your relationship with them.”
The results have been staggering. With this year’s East Hall team sitting at 9-7 and in the running to claim its fourth straight region title, Dix is currently averaging more than 22 wins per season.
“Look at how many coaches may coach a full career and never get a handful of 20-win seasons,” Vining said. “Here Joe is, averaging 20-plus a year. It’s hard to do that. People can talk about it all they want, but it’s a feat that’s hard to accomplish.”
So is winning 300 games, an achievement Dix wanted to keep as subdued as possible.
Dix, who said he had been advised by Vining to keep track of such milestones, told his players his 300th career win was in reach prior to the season but didn’t mention it the day of the game.
Yet when he entered the locker room following the victory against Fannin County, his players held a proper celebration. The Vikings swarmed their coach with large print-outs of the number 300 that represented Dix’s accomplishment.
“When I came in after the game, the kids jumped up and were going crazy,” the 14th-year coach said with a laugh. “We took a few good pictures with them.”
It was a fitting reciprocation of the exuberance Dix showed in every one of those 300 wins.
“He has always been one that didn’t hold back when it came to expressing himself, particularly with his players,” Vining said. “ … I think they’d be disappointed if he was any other way.”