When the Charlotte Bobcats hired St. John’s assistant Mike Dunlap as their next head coach, a move first reported Monday by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, they surprised … well, pretty much everyone. Not just because of Dunlap’s background–more on that in a moment–but also because Dunlap reportedly wasn’t one of the three finalists for the job, a group that included Brian Shaw, Jerry Sloan and Quin Snyder before at least Sloan and possibly Shaw took themselves out of the running.
On SB Nation, my friend Scott Schroeder took Charlotte to task for the process. Scott’s got a dog in this fight–as a preeminent D-League analyst, he kept a close eye on Snyder’s route back to the NBA through coaching in the D-League. The former Missouri coach has since advanced to the NBA as an assistant coach, first with the Philadelphia 76ers and now the Los Angeles Lakers. His larger point is certainly valid, but I disagree with it because in three years nobody is going to remember the Bobcats’ finalists for this job.
In the summer of 2007, the Orlando Magic conducted one of the most convoluted coaching searches in recent memory. The Magic hired Billy Donovan away from the University of Florida after his second national championship, only to see Donovan walk away from the job days later to return to campus. Changing courses, Orlando settled on Stan Van Gundy, who proceeded to win better than 60 percent of his games over the last five years and should have won Coach of the Year at some point during the run.
By the time Van Gundy established himself, how he was hired was long forgotten–at least until the equally messy end to his tenure with the Magic. So all that really matters is whether Dunlap can coach, and anyone who expresses a strong opinion on that matter is irrationally confident. Certainly, Big East assistant to NBA head coach is not a typical career path, but that misses a lot of Dunlap’s unique resume. He’s got NBA experience, having spent two seasons as an assistant to George Karl in Denver, which mitigates the usual concerns about college coaches trying to learn the NBA game.
Dunlap seemed certain to land a good head coaching job in the NCAA at some point, especially after taking over the Red Storm program last season with head coach Steve Lavin battling prostate cancer. Dunlap’s supporters–including Karl–have long raved about his ability as a teacher and Xs & Os guy. Obviously, this is a bigger step than moving up at the NCAA level, and those endorsements aren’t enough to go by any more than Dunlap’s non-NBA resume is from a negative perspective. Wait and see might be a cop-out, but it’s often the correct response to uncertainty.
This is an NCAA story, too, as Lavin has to replace a key assistant relatively late in the college calendar. Having received a clean bill of health at his most recent checkup, Lavin is expected to return to to the bench next season but will need to add someone to a staff that also includes long-time Purdue head coach Gene Keady.