John Dunne's move from Saint Peter's to Marist turned unfavorable situation into a winning hire for Red Foxes, who should make progress in MAAC after decade-long morass. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)
Four weeks ago today, Marist athletic director Tim Murray put himself and his men's basketball program into an admittedly tough spot, relieving Mike Maker of his duties hours before the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game and then going through a search process in which no candidate emerged as the clear frontrunner, at least until Patrick Beilein reportedly rejected an offer to coach the Red Foxes last weekend.
Monday morning, Murray pulled a rabbit out of his hat, pressured a lump of coal long enough to turn it into a diamond, attracting John Dunne to Poughkeepsie -- where he will be introduced in a Thursday press conference -- as Maker's successor.
If the announcement comes out of left field as you read this, it is easy to understand why. Dunne, who MAAC fans have gotten to know very well from his dozen years at Saint Peter's, is the first coach -- unless you count Jimmy Patsos leaving a Loyola team headed for the Patriot League in the 2013 offseason to replace Mitch Buonaguro at Siena -- to leave one MAAC program for another. But unprecedented coaching carousel moves aside, his arrival in the Hudson Valley gives Marist its most accomplished coach since Dave Magarity's 18-year run at the helm ended in 2004.
For those unfamiliar with Dunne's teams at Saint Peter's, they can be best described as methodical, fundamentally sound -- and in the minds of several MAAC experts -- the most bought in with regard to the concept of team defense. Dunne's Peacocks were masters at suffocating opposing teams and taking them far enough out of a groove offensively that it became a tall order to dictate the terms of games. In other words, think Wisconsin or Virginia, but on the mid-major level. And if you are a Marist fan who hasn't heard the phrase John Dunne special, it would be wise to acquaint yourself with the concept of it.
The under-the-radar move, which Rich Thomaselli did an excellent job chronicling for Hudson Valley Sports Report, comes at a time where Marist basketball may have reached its nadir, mired in a stretch of mediocrity that translates to a record of 81-233 in the ten seasons following Matt Brady's departure in the spring of 2008. Dunne's record may not carry the bells and whistles of a Mike Krzyzewski or Roy Williams, but his 153 wins at Saint Peter's -- including two 20-win seasons that produced a MAAC championship and CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament championship -- border on miraculous considering the facilities in Jersey City and location of the university. In simple terms, Dunne has been able to accomplish a lot with what is perceived to be a little. Give him Marist's sprawling campus, aesthetically pleasing gym in McCann Arena, and a geographic base that places him just over an hour and a Metro-North train ride from New York, and the results will pay off almost instantaneously.
Anyone who knows Dunne will immediately vouch for his salt-of-the-earth nature, a gentleman and a class act who will represent anyone he affiliates himself with to the highest possible standard, and a worker akin to a master craftsman who will not stop improving his project until he can no longer recognize an apparent flaw. The same people who champion his work and character off the court will just as quickly give him his just plaudits for what he does on the hardwood, taking notice of his ability to develop both sides of a player's game, as well as prepare each of his young pupils for life after basketball.
Murray took an 0-2 count, to use baseball parlance, and hit his next pitch out of the park by luring Dunne away from Saint Peter's. The time now arises for the Red Foxes and the Hudson Valley community to put on their hard hats and get to work. And at the end of the day, and every day to come thereafter, Marist's men's basketball program will be in a better place than before under the patient and watchful eye of its new leader.