Mike Dunbar Resurfaces at N.I.U.
By Paul Myerberg // Feb 9, 2012
When asked last March why offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar abruptly tendered his resignation from New Mexico State, DeWayne Walker replied, “That’s the million-dollar question.” The answer, if Walker is still curious, is one with slightly fewer zeroes. Dunbar made only $80,000 over his one season as Walker’s coordinator, in 2010, a total that paled in comparison to the average salary of a position coach in the F.B.S., let alone an offensive or defensive coordinator. But that’s life at New Mexico State, where the school’s entire athletic budget is about half of what the typical university in the SEC spends merely on football.
Dunbar has resurfaced after a one-year absence, his second in three years after being dismissed at Minnesota following the 2008 season. He was Tim Brewster’s coordinator for two seasons, helping the Golden Gophers bounce back from a disastrous 1-11 campaign in 2007 with a bowl trip the following season. Then he was gone, a victim of Brewster’s decision to move Minnesota’s offense in a more pro-style direction.
Dunbar is spread-based, and has been so since he joined Randy Walker’s staff at Northwestern in 2001. After spending one season as a position coach, Dunbar assumed offensive coordinator duties in 2002; he was Northwestern’s coordinator for the next four seasons, culminating in an attack in 2005 that ranked fourth nationally in total offense.
Once Northern Illinois’ choice as Matt Canada’s replacement at offensive coordinator, P.J. Fleck spent all of one day in the position before reversing course, telling Dave Doeren that he didn’t “feel ready to be an offensive coordinator.” Fleck was ready to continue serving as a wide receivers coach, a position he held over the last two years under Greg Schiano at Rutgers and a position he’ll again hold under Schiano with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Doeren wasn’t… tickled. And after promising to make a hire that will would “make N.I.U. football even better,” he opted for Fleck’s polar opposite: Dunbar. He’s everything Fleck is not, beginning with the sort experience that comes with nearly three decades spent on the college ranks. Fleck was in middle school when Dunbar landed his first F.B.S. coordinator position, at Toledo, in 1992.
One decision that remains undecided, and won’t be discussed until Dunbar or Doeren speak publicly over the next day or two, is whether Northern Illinois will ask its new coordinator to retain the same philosophy and terminology as last year’s offense. That wouldn’t be such a stretch for Dunbar, thanks to his experience in the spread.
Or N.I.U. could allow Dunbar to alter the offense to better reflect his slightly different philosophy. His offenses have always been quarterback-centered, much like the offense the Huskies have featured over the last three or four years. But unlike at N.I.U., where the spread is run-based, Dunbar’s offenses have typically been focused more predominantly on the pass.
The question most N.I.U. fans have, of course, is whether Dunbar is still a viable coordinator on the F.B.S. level. His two seasons at Minnesota weren’t overly impressive, though Dunbar was handed a young roster and suffered his fair share of injuries; in addition, it wasn’t as if he was working under the most capable head coach in the country. His lone season at New Mexico State went horribly, though that’s simply par for the course in Las Cruces.
The presumption, based on the hire, is that Doeren wants to maintain the general theme of last year’s offense. Bringing in a spread-first coordinator would allow the Huskies to keep running the same plan, even if the Huskies throw the ball a bit more than they have in the recent past. It’s a safe presumption: Canada himself was a pass-heavy spread coordinator at Indiana, and he tailored his philosophy to fit Northern Illinois’ personnel.
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