As head coach Steve Lavin put it, "To make the unprecedented jump from college assistant to NBA head coach is testament to both Mike's abilities as a teacher and our basketball program's marked improvement over the past 27 months," - the time since Lavin finally got Dunlap to sign on the dotted line as his final, and possibly most essential, assistant coach.
Last year, Dunlap's coaching was a real difference-maker while Lavin sat out much of the season recovering from his prostate cancer surgery.
Many question the move, expecting to hear a name that they have more experience with as a head coach on the NBA level (or a high-profile college coach).
But for those with experience with Dunlap - and those who have watched or covered undisciplined teams that he has helped to make better - Coach Dunlap is the detail-oriented taskmaster who deserved a shot at the head chair somewhere. More, below the fold.
For a team outscored by 11.3 points per 100 possessions (second worst in the Big East), they remained competitive by controlling the effort/ athleticism/ smarts portion of the game as best as they could. The team was at the bottom of the league in offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency, but tried to stem the tide by getting to the line and keeping opponents off of the line - and winning the turnover battle.
There were smart game plans that lasted for a half, deep-sized by the issues of a six-man depth chart made up of freshmen - but there were few games where one could say Dunlap was "outcoached".
On the Division I college level, Dunlap has piloted an Arizona program reeling from Lute Olson's departure to a Sweet Sixteen; he helped an undisciplined Oregon Duck team be more competitive. Along the way, Dunlap has built an ark of admirers.
"He's simply a basketball junkie,'' former Nuggets and current Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said to Andy Katz of ESPN. "He has traveled the world -- literally -- to study the game. Everyone needs talent. No one is a genius of the game. But he'll do a great job with the X's and O's and the preparation and the motivation and teaching and developing."
Former Johnnie Sean Evans, who was rumored to be in the doghouse with the Red Storm staff his final year, said via Twitter, "He always pushed me to my limits and beyond but always wanted the best for me ... Can not thank him enuff". Evans blossomed in his final games with the Johnnies, becoming a hard-effort player with fewer of the flashy mistakes he'd made his first three years.
I'm so happy because he’s swung and missed so often – he couldn't get (the job) at Colorado, Colorado State, Wyoming. There were jobs we thought we were going to help get him. I’m glad someone recognized his brilliance. In a strange way, it’s kind of a unique hire – but the karma says it can work. And that’s really exciting for Mike. He’ll do everything they want him to do – he’ll take the bullets, he’ll take the losses and I think he’ll build a good foundation and culture. It reminds me a little of what they did here in Denver with Jeff Bzdelik – they brought him in, they knew they weren't going to win a lot of games, but they wanted a teacher and a director of the culture. That worked out in a positive way.
Jeff Bzdelik was the full-time head coach of the Nuggets before George Karl came to Denver. Per the earlier ESPN article, Charlotte General Manager Richo Cho stated that they wanted a coach with strong player development skills to coach the young team. And Cho has had a long view of building a franchise from the moment he received the Bobcats job.
Mike Dunlap is now a huge part of his plan. He has the skills to develop the players into a competitive force.