DeKALB – Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren said the resumé speaks for itself. Mike Dunbar’s 35-year history as a college football coach is full of stops as a play-caller – as an offensive coordinator at Northwestern and Toledo, as a head coach at Northern Iowa.
Add NIU to the list.
The resumé, Doeren said Wednesday, made Dunbar the top candidate to be the Huskies’ offensive coordinator when P.J. Fleck resigned Friday after less than 24 hours after being hired. But Doeren drew on personal experience before making the hire.
Doeren coached against Dunbar four times – twice when Doeren was Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator, and twice as a position coach at Kansas. Each time, Doeren said he walked away impressed, thinking of him as “cutting edge” and “difficult to defend.”
“At Northwestern, they averaged like 500 yards per game the one year,” Doeren said. “That was just when the spread was coming into college football. It was really him and Rich ‘Rod’ (Rodriguez, head coach at Arizona) who were really designing it and changing the landscape of college football at the time.
“And then, playing him both years at Kansas, I just remember how cutting edge he was offensively and how difficult he was to defend.”
Beyond the resumé, Doeren said Dunbar’s experience with the spread offense made him a good fit at NIU. The Huskies offense – much of which will feature first-time starters in 2012 – is about to get its third offensive coordinator in the past three seasons. Doeren’s goal was to make the learning curve as little as possible.
Doeren started with candidates who were close to NIU before branching out to those who were close to his system. He said he made many inquiring calls, and Dunbar called him when former NIU offensive coordinator Matt Canada left for the same job at Wisconsin. Fleck and Dunbar were the only two coaches who were brought in for interviews, Doeren said.
Doeren thought he had offensive assistants on his staff who were capable of calling plays, he said, and perhaps would’ve taken that route if Dunbar didn’t work out. But he couldn’t pass on Dunbar’s experience and familiarity with the spread.
“Mike’s run, not our terminology, but he’s run our system – just with a different language,” Doeren said. “So it’s a real simple transition I think that way for Mike when he comes in here, because when we met with him and interviewed him, there isn’t a play in our offense that he hasn’t run. It’s just been run with different words.”
Doeren said Dunbar will learn NIU’s current terminology first, but that “I want him to be able to call a game comfortably,” so some of his terms likely will be sprinkled in.
The Dunbar hire finalizes Doeren’s coaching staff for 2012 and also ends a strange and tumultuous week for NIU football. Fleck was hired this past Thursday, but called Doeren on Friday morning to resign and was hired as Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receivers coach Saturday.
Doeren said, “it was an unprofessional day, for sure,” and there was nothing he could say to make the situation better.
“I felt like I gave P.J. a great opportunity,” Doeren said. “He didn’t obviously want it. He made the decision he made. I think a lot of people probably shook their head, including myself.”
Doeren said he moved on 48 hours afterward, and he’s pleased with the final result. When asked Wednesday whether he felt Dunbar was the best person for the job, Doeren said, “There’s no doubt.”
“In my opinion, the guy I hired, Mike Dunbar, is a slam dunk,” Doeren said. “He’s a tremendous, tremendous football coach and a great person. Our players and coaches are going to learn a great deal from him.”