Mike Dunlap, the new head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats, received a congratulatory message from Bobcats veteran Corey Maggette. Maggette said hed like to come to Dunlap so they can get to know each other. Although Maggette lives in California, Dunlap said hed go to him.
Whatever it takes to get to them, Dunlap says at Time Warner Cable Arena Wednesday.
First impressions can be wildly inaccurate. But they also can be true.
My first impression of Dunlap: I understand why the Bobcats were impressed.
Not sure what happened to the other finalists. Jerry Sloan was one. Think he got tired of waiting. Brian Shaw was another. Think he wanted the Bobcats to wait because he had bigger names on the other line. Think Quin Snyder was not terribly impressive in his final interview.
I ask Rod Higgins, the teams president of basketball operations, if he offered the head coaching job to anybody else.
One and only right here, he says. One offer. One acceptance.
Right there, next to Higgins, is Dunlap. He's 54. He wears a light blue shirt and dark blue suit. He's broad shouldered, has a deep voice, sits straight and looks you in the eye. Hes conscious of what he says and how he says it. If you were a rookie, youd be tempted to salute.
Hes a runner. I ask how many miles a week he runs and he says all runners lie, which is mostly true. He says he ran 60 minutes Tuesday and 60 Wednesday.
Dunlap uses large words with greater ease than any basketball coach since N.C. States Herb Sendek. During Wednesdays news conference, and in a conversation afterward, he says grandiose, inculcate, symbiotic, assimilate and gestalt. Gestalt is my favorite.
When the hiring process began the Bobcats wrote the names of 40 candidates on a dry-erase board. A career assistant who was head coach at two small schools and for a team in Australia, Dunlap was not a favorite and did not make the team's final cut. The Ss Shaw, Sloan and Snyder did.
When neither of the S's were hired and the search resumed, there Dunlap was.
He describes his 32-year coaching career as a slow roll.
About becoming a head coach he says: If it didnt happen it was on me.
How does a candidate known as a career assistant impress a potential employer?
Ron Rivera, a career assistant, was the only applicant for the Carolina Panthers head coaching position who came to the interview with a plan detailing what he would do during a lockout.
Dunlap, too, has a plan: Dont allow easy baskets. Attack when we have the ball and when we dont. Play hard and play together.
Dunlap gets excited about his sport. He makes the screen and roll sound like something that should play at the local theater.
Because he doesnt want to slip into coach-speak he responds to a question by borrowing the legal-sized yellow pad of Observer colleague Rick Bonnell and diagramming a play. Dunlap draws a basket as quickly as the rest of us sign our first name and a lane as quickly as the rest of us sign our last. With passion Dunlap adds Xs and Os.
Dunlap says hes never had an original idea.
Im just a thief, he says.
But his thievery includes footnotes. Among those from whom he has borrowed are NFL coaches New England's Bill Belichick and former San Francisco coach Bill Walsh.
Yet not even Belichick can win without talent. No matter who the Bobcats acquire with the second pick in next weeks NBA draft, they will not win next season and they are unlikely to win the season after that.
What Charlotte requires, then, is a coach confident enough to teach and develop and handle failure.
If Dunlap succumbs to the pressure of losing, if he goes Larry Brown and blames his team, I will, based on what I saw Wednesday, be shocked.
Are you really going to try to visit all your players, I ask?
What if Bismack Biyombo returns to his native Congo?
Lets go, says Dunlap. Why not?