Coaching a college basketball team for more than a few years is a rare feat these days.
Utah Valley women’s coach Cathy Nixon is one of those who are defying the stereotypes of college coaches as she starts her 13th season at the helm of the Wolverines.
Ultimately, Nixon’s commitment to the program stretches to 17 years, as she assisted for four years before taking charge.
As Nixon is preparing for the team’s fifth season of NCAA play, she said it’s a far cry from where she started.
"I came here as an assistant coach and made $500 a year," said Nixon. "I worked four different jobs … I was (just) trying to make ends meet."
Looking back, Nixon said that staying in Utah wasn’t the first option after she graduated from BYU, as she was set to move back to Texas to coach and teach there.
"Honestly, I thought the day I would finish playing basketball at BYU, I’d be home in Texas," she said. "(But) I had the chance to start coaching at BYU." And she took it.
Although it looks like a perfect fit now, at the time, Nixon didn’t see herself making a career out of coaching.
"When I was playing, I didn’t want to coach," Nixon said. "I thought it wouldn’t be any fun. I couldn’t figure out how it would be fun if you weren’t actually playing in a game."
But coaching seems to be in her blood as she assisted at BYU for three years before coming to what was then Utah Valley Community College. Her job has changed quite a bit from when the team was a junior college program.
"I have been here 12 years; my job has changed significantly. I had eight years as a junior college coach, and all of a sudden, I was a Division I coach."
The work has increased because of the jump to Division I play, but that doesn’t mean that she had an easier time before the move.
Prior to going D1, Nixon didn’t have any full-time assistants to rely on. "We did everything. I drove the bus and did the cleaning checks," Nixon said.
Although Nixon’s 231-137 record at UVSC stands on its own, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. The Wolverines only managed to win four games in the 2004-05 season, their first full NCAA schedule.
"I was telling somebody, ‘We had four miracles all in the same year,’" Nixon said. "For us to beat anybody was just incredible."
Even so, overall records don’t necessarily dictate how successful a team is, and Nixon notes that the 2004-05 season stands out for the positives that came out of the difficult time.
"Sometimes you can’t measure a team’s success by wins and losses, because that may have been my best year of coaching ever, and we only won four games," Nixon said.
With UVSC’s transition, Nixon misses some of the junior college days. She said that she enjoyed developing players who would then move on to Division I programs.
Those junior college experiences gave her some valuable insight into how she could go about coaching and recruiting players for four years, instead of two.
"It helped me to develop a relationship and perspective on recruiting that I think has helped me at the Division I level," Nixon said.
With another two seasons before full Division I status, Nixon is mindful of being the first women’s coach to make the jump from junior college straight to DI, all the while, staying with the same program school.
"It’s been an exciting thing to make history, to do something no one else has done," Nixon said. "Personally and professionally, it’s been a real exciting opportunity."