DeKALB – Keith Harris Jr. remembers Mike Dunbar as someone who always had a big smile.
The former Northern Illinois offensive coordinator passed away Friday at his home in DuPont, Wash. after a battle with cancer. He was 64 years old.
Dunbar was hired as NIU’s offensive coordinator in January 2012. But after the Huskies’ Week 1 loss to Iowa at Soldier Field, his duties were re-assigned so he could fight the cancer.
Dunbar was only Harris’ offensive coordinator for a little more than a month, but Harris, NIU’s sophomore tailback, vividly remembers Dunbar smiling after walking down from the press box after the Huskies’ practices
“Every time after practice, you would see him with a huge smile on his face. It would just light up the whole field,” Harris said during Tuesday’s news conference at the Yordon Center. “Just having him be there with us, it was a great feeling.”
In Dunbar, Huskies wideout Tommylee Lewis saw a person who was always in a good mood. This was despite the fact Dunbar had been diagnosed with cancer shortly after arriving in DeKalb.
“He was the older guy on the staff, every time you’d see him he was in good spirits, he was in a good mood,” Lewis said. “You’d never see him down or anything.”
Dunbar had a number of stops during his coaching career. It started at Central Washington in 1980, when he was hired as defensive coordinator. Dunbar had stints as the offensive coordinator at five other FBS schools in addition to NIU – Toledo (1992 to ’96), Northwestern (2002 to ’05), Cal (2006), Minnesota (2007 to ’08) and New Mexico State (2010). Dunbar also served as the head coach at both Central Washington (1983, 1987 to ’91), and Northern Iowa (1997 to 2000).
Rod Carey took over NIU’s playcalling duties after the Iowa game last year and Dunbar served in an advisory role. Carey picked up a lot from Dunbar, and said a lot of what he does on a daily basis has been influenced by him.
“The man was a consummate pro. He’s one of those guys, he taught me preparation and detail and process. Mike was really known as an innovator at a lot of his stops. I’ll tell you, he never really viewed himself as an innovator,” Carey said. “He viewed himself as a process guy, that through the process, he’s going to end up with the right result. And he did. He taught me that, even though it was a short time. I just tried to soak it all in.”