Mike Dunlap, who Monday agreed to become the fifth coach of the Charlotte Bobcats, is recognized at coaching conventions, coaching clinics and almost nowhere else.
He was head basketball coach at Metro State, which is in Denver, and at California Lutheran, which is in Thousand Oaks. He led a team to the final four. The team was the Adelaide, Australia, 36ers, and he twice took it to the Australian National Basketball Leagues final four.
Dunlap, 54, has mostly made his living helping other head coaches win. He was an assistant at Southern California and Loyola Marymount, for the NBAs Denver Nuggets, at Oregon and Arizona and, for the past two seasons, at St. Johns.
And now hes a head coach in the NBA.
There are only two reasons to hire Dunlap. The first is that he came cheap. Charlotte doesnt have to pay him what it would have to pay candidates such as former NBA coach Jerry Sloan or NBA assistant and head-coach-in-waiting Brian Shaw.
But this cant be about money, not now. The Bobcats won seven games in 2011-12 and had the worst winning percentage in NBA history. If Dunlap is a dollar-store hire, then next season they deserve to win six.
The Bobcats are a desperate franchise that desperately needs a teacher with the patience to develop and lead young talent.
This is the only reason to hire Dunlap.
His resume doesnt have to work against him. There are coaches who, for whatever reason, spend their careers as understudies. They work as assistants at large schools and head coaches at small ones.
Drive 20 miles north of Charlotte and youll find Bob McKillop. He has the talent to coach anywhere. He coaches not at a big, athletically prestigious school but at Davidson College, a small, academically prestigious one.
He was discovered nationally when he led the Wildcats to the 2008 NCAA tournaments Elite Eight. His peers already knew.
Maybe the Bobcats know. But Dunlap is an enormous gamble. If they had not hired him as head coach, who would have? Who else sees what they see? What other NBA teams were pursuing him? What college teams were?
Dunlap has had practice with struggling teams. He stood in for St. Johns coach Steve Lavin last November after Lavin had prostate cancer surgery. His very young, injury depleted team got six victories in the Big East.
Dunlap won two Division II championships at Metro State, and he worked for North Carolina alumnus George Karl, with the Denver Nuggets. His work with Denver is essential, not because Karl is a Tar Heel but because Dunlap spent two seasons in the NBA. Karl no doubt recommended Dunlap to Charlotte owner Michael Jordan, also a Tar Heel.
The beauty of a bad season is it leads to change. Because the Bobcats were abysmal, they get to start over. They get the second pick in the June 28 NBA draft and they get a new coach. New is great. New is better. But new wears off.
The Bobcats chose a coach who only other coaches would recognize if he walked into a room.
Yet, take a look at the NBA Finals. Coaching the Miami Heat is Erik Spoelstra, who was hired in 1995 as a video coordinator. Until he became head coach in 2008, who had heard of him? He had never been a head coach.
You look at Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks. Like Spoelstra, he was a career assistant until the Thunder hired him as interim head coach in 08.
The most heralded professional head coach in Charlotte history was George Seifert, who was a disaster with the Carolina Panthers. The least heralded coach was Sam Vincent, who was even more of a disaster with the Bobcats.
Id love to say that Dunlap will be great, or that hes terrible.
But, like the Bobcats, I have no idea.