One reason for the St. John's Red Storm resurgence this season wasn't just the ten seniors who started the season on the roster.
It wasn't just Steve Lavin's motivational magic, the Air Force One sneakers, or the quotable analogies.
Lavin's coaching staff - including x-and-o's assistant Mike Dunlap - installed a high-pressure style of defense, got the team to become much better at hitting free throws, brought "swagger", and found ways to defend and score well enough to win, despite no history of either from the class of ten seniors.
Some will say they were due to play better by dint of being older. I would say that the previous staff had Dwight Hardy coming off of the bench, lost 12 games, couldn't generate points, and their only sign of turning things around was what looks like a flukish beating of Louisville in 2010.
The coaching staff certainly made stylistic changes, and those changes coincided with a giant turnaround; the staff made a difference.
Success helps keep the shine on a coach's name; Mike Dunlap has a lot of success, and has received a lot of love from basketball insiders for years. And that means that Mike Dunlap's name comes up for a number of the many open college hoops coaching positions. He's not the hot name of Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens, but those in the know will toss a wink and a smile his way.
Read more about the possibility that Dunlap could leave, below the fold.
(from last summer -links to Mike Dunlap's history and some of his notes)
In a year, Mike Dunlap has made a strong impression. Players have spoken of his tutelage (Sean Evans, in particular). Fans got to hear about which players had Mike Dunlap's Bat, a symbol of responsibility and team unity. He was a major part of the coaching, often visible murmuring strategic somethings in Lavin's ear during and just after timeouts.
Dunlap's coached as an assistant in the NBA, been a head coach in Australia and on the Division II level; he's assisted at Oregon and Arizona in recent years. But Dunlap has expressed the desire to be his own head coach in a solid program, has his family out west, and has expressed interest in jobs out west in the Rocky Mountain region that he knows well.
So of course, the University of Wyoming has had Dunlap on their list for some time now, though a recent article states that interest has cooled (we will see). They hope that tossing some money will get coaches to take a long look at the high-mountain town. (Or Dunlap might have interviewed). Word has it that the Wyoming Cowboys have their hearts set on Blaine Taylor at Old Dominion, according to one report out of the Casper Star-Tribune, with Dunlap one of their back-burner candidates.
Now Fresno State University is interested in the well-traveled assistant known for his X and O chops. Like St. John's, the Bulldogs' program is trying to keep its nose clean, after coming off of four years of sanctions (Ray Lopes) and a number of memorable run-ins by players on the roster (Avondre Jones, Kenny Brunner) and guys who had been booted from the program (Terry Pettis) along with point-shaving issues under noted scofflaw-adjacent coach Jerry Tarkanian.
And looking at realistic candidates for coaching jobs, Graham Watson at Yahoo! mentions Mike Dunlap for the Mizzou position; longtime St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz likes the idea of Dunlap as well, though Dunlap won't win any press conferences with his name recognition.
The University of Utah job is also open, having fired Jim Boylen.
Utah would be interesting; they are moving the program to the Pac-
10 12 and have had a history of success in basketball. Fresno State has had some success, and is the only game in the central valley of California. If he gets offers from all of these programs, why wouldn't he take a long, hard look at leaving?
The job at St. John's is rumored to pay him upwards of $400,000 (though that is a rumor), for one. Most of the lower-level jobs will be hard pressed to match that salary for a basketball head coach; though Wyoming is rumored to be ponying up $600,000 (supposedly). But chances are, the man who was holding out for the Colorado position last year won't want to wait for the Wyoming people to make up their minds; it's not a particularly great job even at that price.
There are over 30 coaching changes on tap. With so many solid openings up at Missouri (now), North Carolina State, Georgia Tech and others, there will be a cascade of changes. Coaches from Midwestern schools who have had success will get their chance at major conference jobs; those positions will be filled by well-known/ -liked/ -regarded assistants.
There comes a point where Mike Dunlap might just be the best-looking coaching candidate in the room. For a smart Athletic Director, he'd be much more appealing than an untested young assistant, or a retread with a mediocre record, or a young coach with only one year of high-level success... though that often doesn't stop decision-makers enamored with Sweet Sixteen runs and not the nitty gritty of consistent winning.
When will we know? With search firms helping to keep some of the rumors quieter than they have been in past years, it's impossible to tell smoke from fire.
Dunlap would probably be a better coach than many other possibilities; but his lack of name recognition for fans and boosters may keep him with St. John's for another year. Great for the Red Storm if so; but fans have to keep their eyes open next week, when many coaches will be chatting about the open jobs in the Final Four hotels. It's a good problem to have, a coveted assistant; it means that things are really going solidly for the program.