At first glance, the name John Dunn isn’t going to make heads turn and it certainly isn’t going to make opposing defensive coordinators nervous, at least on day one. That, however, is not a way to judge a coaching hire. A team’s performance on the field is the ultimate result.
So what Dunn’s name wasn’t on the list of potential candidates being speculated. Big deal. Dunn hasn’t run an offense for an entire season during his 13-year coaching career? That might be a little bigger deal.
Save all that second guessing for after game one in September, however, as today, let’s look a little deeper into Dunn’s background. There are several things to like and be optimistic about, but first off, what did head coach Randy Edsall say about the hire?
“Having John join our staff as offensive coordinator/quarterback coach will enhance our staff tremendously,” Edsall said in a release on Friday afternoon. “He has a wealth of knowledge in different schemes and has learned and coached under some of the best offensive minds in the game. He has an outstanding offensive mind and understands how to attack people and take advantage of personnel match ups.”
“His philosophy of being a multiple, no huddle offense that ATTACKS using multiple tempos, personnel groupings and formations defines our vision offensively,” he continued. “His NFL experience will allow us to grow our passing game and also aid in the recruitment of prospective student-athletes. John is a proven recruiter and evaluator and has recruited in the areas where we will be recruiting heavily. I’m really excited about having John on board and look forward to what we will be accomplishing as we move forward.”
In recent weeks, Edsall has talked about former Bears head coach John Fox and it’s clear he likely relied on Fox for feedback on how Dunn has developed since he arrived in the National Football League.
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKED WITH THE CHICAGO BEARS
What’s intriguing most about the hire of Dunn isn’t necessarily the time he spent working under Les Miles at LSU, the experience with Randy Edsall at Maryland or even working for John Fox with the Bears. It’s who he had a chance to work alongside in Chicago over the last two years that raised my eyes the most. That person is Ben McDaniels. Why is that important? McDaniels is the brother of New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, perhaps the best offensive mind in all of football.
The younger McDaniels worked under his brother in Denver in 2009 and 2010 and no doubt has shared the offensive philosophy his brother has for the game, which ultimately has him on the verge of yet another Super Bowl run, alongside the greatest quarterback in the history of the game. So what exactly did Dunn do in his roles of Quality Control and Offensive Analyst over his two years with the Bears?
“John spends most of his time running the receivers,” McDaniels described just after Christmas, as the Bears were getting set to wrap up their regular season. “We work in and amongst various positions, but we do a lot of things behind that. In most cases, we work two-to-three weeks ahead within a game week, so the guys can be ready to go when they need to transition to the next opponent. There’s a lot involved with that, so we just try to stay up with all of the responsibilities and make sure we are doing everything we can for all the assistants to be able to do their job too.”
“It is a transition [from college] when you haven’t done that for awhile,” Dunn added. “Ben and I both came from college where you’re zoned in on one team [each week]. To be back to where you are a week to two weeks in advance, you are kind of double-dipping. As the game gets closer, you then have to zero-in on the team you are playing that week again and refocus.”
Dunn’s previous boss, former Bears head coach John Fox, raved about Dunn’s work and development as a coach in Chicago in today’s press release.
“John is as good an offensive mind as I’ve been around,” Fox said. “He has a great feel for the run game as well as the pass game. He has the ability to relate to and motivate players and is an outstanding coach with a bright future!”
For Dunn, football is not a job, it’s rather one of the loves of his life. His journey started way back in a small hometown in North Carolina.
“I grew up in a little town in North Carolina,” Dunn said in December. “We loved sports and that’s really all we did. Where we grew up, the high school coach, coached everything, I didn’t even know what a coordinator was, he literally did everything. So I remember asking him one day at practice if he got paid to do this. He asked, ‘what do you mean?’ I clarified and asked is this your job? He said yes.”
“I remember going home and telling my parents, I know what I’m going to do [in life],” Dunn continued. “I’m going to come back here and coach high school football. So I went through college, got injured and couldn’t play my senior year, but the coach asked me to stick on and be a graduate assistant, which I really didn’t know what that entailed at the time. One thing led to the next and here I am. I kind of always wanted to be a high school football coach and it’s led me to here.”
MARYLAND, MY MARYLAND
Along the way, Dunn arrived in College Park, hired by Randy Edsall after he led the Huskies to their lone BCS Bowl appearance, the 2011 Fiesta Bowl. With the Terps, Dunn served as recruiting coordinator and was part of some big wins on the trail, notably around the DC and Maryland area.
“Yannick Ngakoue is from DC and Stefon [Diggs] is from the state of Maryland, both good players,” Dunn said. “Stefon was a top player in the state, was really the biggest kid for us at the time. The way recruiting works, you need to get one of those big fishes and the rest kind of follow, so he was an important player for us there and he really held us together offensively [at Maryland]. Both were good kids for us and not a surprise that both are seeing a lot of success [in the NFL].”
Both are still alive in this year’s playoffs and Edsall had a chance to see Ngakoue in person this past weekend as he’s starring for the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he’s recorded 12.0 sacks on the year.
Dunn spent five seasons in all (2011-15) at Maryland, which included coaching tight ends. During his time with the Terps, he helped put together two, top-35 recruiting classes and landed three five-star recruits (Damien Prince, 2014; Deon Long, 2013; Stefon Diggs, 2012). He also helped Maryland land the Washington, D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons (Yannick Ngakoue, 2013; Albert Reid, 2012).
Prior to joining Maryland, Dunn spent three seasons at LSU as an offensive graduate assistant/intern. While with the Tigers, he helped coach the offensive line and quarterbacks and ran meetings with those position groups. He also had a primary responsibility for the assimilation of the playbook and all computer drawings, as well as putting together all practice scripts and game plans.
Dunn was a walk-on at North Carolina from 2001-03, playing quarterback and tight end before a neck injury ended his career. After the injury, he served as a student assistant (2004) before being promoted to an offensive quality control coach (2005) and finally an offensive graduate assistant (2006-07). In 2007, he helped WR Hakeem Nicks earn first-team all-ACC honors.
REUNITED WITH EDSALL
In December, Dunn was asked about the slow progress a coach makes in the profession over the course of his career. At the time, he was not aware he would be getting such a large promotion to a coordinator level position in college.
“There are going to be ebbs and flows for sure, it’s not a steady incline,” Dunn said. “It’s something we get to do and not something we have to do. It’s never felt like work and it makes the hours worthwhile.”
That slow progress turned into a full-on sprint for Dunn with today’s announcement. He will will earn $300K per year over the two-year contract and thanked UConn head coach Randy Edsall for the opportunity to show what he can do.
“I’m so grateful to Coach Edsall for the chance to join this team,” Dunn said in today’s release. “I’m thrilled for this opportunity. My family and I look forward to being a part of UConn football.”
Dunn, who’s father was a police officer and mom was an administrative assistant at his high school, is married to his wife Lindsay. They have two children, Carter and Emerson. Players will be introduced to Dunn as they report back to UConn from Christmas break, as Tuesday, January 16th are the first scheduled workouts of 2018.
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