HUNTINGTON – When Dave Dunn was hired as Marshall’s newest assistant football coach nearly three weeks ago, his decision was swift. But that isn’t to say it was made in haste.
A part of it was he just wanted to really coach football again.
Dunn had been an NCAA Division III head coach for 11 seasons, the last 10 of those at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. But when Herd Coach Doc Holliday phoned, offering him the Marshall tight ends job, Dunn gave up being the boss.
“It’s almost like it’s a two-sided thing,” Dunn said recently in his Shewey Building office. “There are parts where being a head coach makes you a better assistant because you know all of the things a head coach expects of you. But then there’s also something to be said about being the boss.
“I am excited to be here. One thing as a head coach, in terms of X’s and O’s, I kind of felt my growth as a coach was stunted a bit, because I spent so much time managing the program, organizing the recruiting, other things.
“We didn’t have a support staff (at CUA) – five guys fulltime, then bunch of part-timers. I was the director of football operations, the academic coordinator, in charge of recruiting, in charge of travel. I was the offensive coordinator, too. So, you wear all of those hats. I always felt my growth as a coach — learning more — was kind of stunted.”
Besides, Dunn knew the lay of the land, so to speak. His best contact on the Herd staff – offensive line coach Alex Mirabal — had been his assistant in 1999 and 2000 at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami.
Dunn, 50, also had contacts with Herd offensive coordinator Bill Legg through Mirabal and more. He knew Holliday because as a Miami prep coach and then an assistant at Florida Atlantic, Dunn had run into the Miami-recruiting Herd coach repeatedly. And Herd linebackers coach Adam Fuller and Dunn were both New England natives and each spent a year – albeit it three seasons apart – as a sub-Division I head coach in Worcester, Mass. (at Assumption and Becker, respectively).
“It all happened pretty quickly,” said Dunn, who was born in Detroit but moved with his family to Connecticut when he was 9. “Alex called me and said, ‘We have a spot … Mike Furrey just took a head coaching job (at Division II Limestone). I just thought Alex was calling me, giving me the news.
“Then he says, ‘I wanted you to know I talked to Coach Holliday and Coach Legg about you.’ I said, ‘What’s that mean?’ Alex said, ‘Just hold tight I’ll let you know.’ I was still recruiting at Catholic for the 2016 class.
“You have no scholarships in Division III and kids take their time deciding. So, I’m up in Connecticut, trying to convince a kid to commit to us and work on recruiting the 2017 class. I called my wife (Danisha) and told her a little bit. While I was doing that, Alex texts, ‘You might get a phone call from a 304 number; if you do, it will be Doc calling you.’
“Within seconds of that, Doc called me. It happened very fast.”
It also helped, Dunn said, that his wife knew something about Marshall and the Tri-State area to which the family would be moving. Danisha Dunn was familiar with the Marshall history through Vickie Loria Buchner, a daughter of the late Herd assistant coach Frank Loria, who died in the 1970 football team plane crash.
Vickie Loria and Danisha Dunn were classmates at Virginia Tech (Frank Loria’s alma mater, where he was a consensus All-America defensive back in 1967) and more recently lived in the same northern Virginia neighborhood. The new Herd assistant coach also said his wife had made some previous trips to the area through her former regional management job with Gap, when the company had a store years back at Huntington Mall.
“Really, I probably couldn’t have married a more appropriate match,” Dunn said. “My wife is from a military family. Her dad (Ken Krause) played offensive line at the Air Force Academy (lettering in 1963 and ’64). She moved like every two years of her life, so being uprooted and moving isn’t foreign to her. I’m very fortunate in that regard.”
Dunn starred at the University of San Diego, where through a family connection he began attending and working summer basketball camps at the picturesque Catholic campus that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. A 1989 USD graduate, Dunn was a nose guard and a team captain his junior and senior years. He was named All-California and Toreros’ Defensive Player of the Year his final season, and owned USD game, season and career records for sacks that lasted nearly two decades.
And his learning curve in the Herd offense won’t be steep, either. Dunn became acquainted with Legg first through Lou Anarumo, the Miami Dolphins’ secondary coach who was a Marshall and Purdue assistant coach with Legg after Anarumo had worked with Dunn on the Harvard staff. Dunn also has learned more about Legg’s offense in recent times.
He installed a good portion of the Herd scheme at Catholic.
“We started using it in 2013, so the last three years,” Dunn said, smiling. “We used a majority of Coach Legg’s run game, stolen from here. The fast-paced tempo we took from here, and we stole part of the pass concepts. We were often a highly ranked team in Division III in terms of passing, and we used some of the stuff from Coach Legg to augment what we were doing.
“The difference in Division III is that there’s no limitation of the roster, so you have more depth at quarterback. You won’t run the quarterback (in the FBS) as much as we did there. I’d say in terms of philosophy, that was the only difference.”
When camp opens, Dunn will be working with tight end scholarship returnees Ryan Yurachek, Emanuel Byrd and Kaleb Harris; signee Cody Mitchell, the former Point Pleasant High star; and walk-on Kyle Camacho. Dunn said he likes the versatility the position offers.
“If you think about it, tight end is the true hybrid position,” Dunn said. “You can have the tight end in the backfield, in the slot, on the line. It’s not just one philosophy the way we do it here. You have to incorporate it into what you want. There are times (tight ends) are wide receivers, times they are fullbacks, times they’re offensive tackles.
“You have to be versatile. More often than not at this level, you recruit a taller running back or bigger wide receiver to play tight end. Think about it: With the guys we have, Yurachek is the only one who truly played tight end in high school. Byrd was a quarterback, Harris a wide receiver and Cody Mitchell was a little bit of everything.”
Part of Dunn’s recruiting area is a territory he knows well – Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia – to go with the Carolinas. Right now, he’s trying to settle in as an assistant coach for the first time since September 2004, when he resigned during the season at FAU to become the first head coach at Becker College, where he recruited 90 players in nine months to establish the schools’ first football team for the ’05 season.
Dunn also has been an assistant at San Diego and Indiana State, as well as a high school head coach in Monroe, Conn., and Boca Raton, Fla.
“The toughest part coming here when I did, I’d say, is trying to learn the lay of the land and trying to get something done before the staff breaks for vacation,” Dunn said. “There is more time if you get in earlier in the (spring) semester.
“But with the rules the way they are now, we do get to do some things in player development, get to spend some time with our players. It would be more of an issue if it were like it was in the past, where you’d only see them maybe pass in the hallway. Now, we get to work with them a bit, see what they’re made of.”
Dunn is Holliday’s 25th hire as a Marshall assistant coach in six-plus years (including his original staff of nine). The tight ends coach and his wife are making the move with their son, Jack, 16, and daughter, Allison, 16 months.
“Yeah, 16 years and 16 months,” Dunn said. “I’ll be coaching forever, but you know what? It keeps you young.”