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Johnny Dawkins

March 11, 2004 Columns No Comments

The Next Great Head Coach

by Michael Ermitage

Buckle up and hang tight – the annual coaching carousel is just beginning to spin. Except in college basketball today, it’s less like a friendly carousel and more like a hairpin turn, upside-down, 75-miles per hour roller coaster. We’ve already lost a couple coaches at the first dip (bye bye Dan Hipsher and Ray McCallum). And we’re sure to lose a couple bigger names at the next turn (hope you’re hanging on tightly Steve Alford). If you’re not celebrating an NCAA Tournament bid right now, you’re most likely discussing who you’re next coach should be. And I’ll tell you who that man is – Johnny Dawkins. How is this guy still an assistant? Oh, I’m sorry, Duke elevated him to Associate Head Coach, as if that title is anything more than a hood ornament on a 300 Series BMW.

Dawkins is a smooth customer; he just looks the part. He fills out a $2000 suit better than Rick Pitino, and his game face on the sideline trumps Tom Izzo. And you can’t argue his pedigree. Dawkins is in his seventh year of coaching at Duke, his alma mater. In that time, he’s seen the Blue Devils capture four ACC championships, a National Championship, and record an amazing 164-19 record.

He’s a legendary player at the school, and is still the school’s all-time leading scorer. He was named one of the ACC’s 50 greatest players by the league office. Dawkins, however, isn’t just another name in a litany of great high school basketball players to go the school. Nope, Dawkins made that decision before it was “hip” to choose Duke. In fact, his first season as a Blue Devil resulted in a porous 11-17 record. Dawkins has been a part of building Duke into a powerhouse as both a player and a coach. He’s seen the transformation first-hand, and more importantly, he chose to be a part of that challenge at 18 years old. Then, after his NBA career ended, he took a job on the Duke bench as an administrative intern, eventually working his way up to his current position. This shows an incredible amount of character.

Of course, before his Duke coaching career, he was a solid NBA player, playing nine seasons for the Spurs, 76ers and Pistons. He was the 10th player chosen in the 1986 draft. It seems to me that alumni will respect Dawkins’ Duke coaching pedigree, and his willingness to work his way to a head coaching position. Recruits will no doubt be lured by both his NBA career, and his experience as a coach for many current NBA players. Dawkins is in charge of player development at Duke, and since his arrival, more of Duke’s players are making a splash in the NBA. Where Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley failed, Elton Brand and Shane Battier are succeeding.

So why is he still at Duke? Well, Dawkins is an old-fashioned fella, and his family likes Durham, North Carolina. He’s married with four children. Also, his wallet is plenty fat from his numerous seasons in the NBA. So, while most assistant basketball coaches are eager for a serious payday, Dawkins can afford to wait for the perfect opportunity. Some speculate that at age 39, he’s waiting on the bench for Coach K to retire. However, Krzyzewski is just 57 himself, and could theoretically coach another 10 years. And it’s not like there isn’t a long list of former Duke assistants with head coaching experience who’d love to man the Duke bench.

Dawkins will change some program immeasurably; it’s just a matter of who gets him first.


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