Monday, May 21, 2007

Mike Dunbar: A Closer Look

Say this about Mike Dunbar: He thought the spread offense was cool before all of the kids wanted a ride. No, Dunbar isn't Bill Walsh reincarnate, but his teams score a lot and college football coaches have taken note.

Dunbar came to Northwestern in 2001, a year after the 'Cats tied for a share of the Big Ten Title. In 2002, Dunbar took control of the offense. The 'Cats weren't able to go bowling, but it wasn't for a lack of moving the football. By 2004, Dunbar had the Big Ten's perennial bottom-feeder ranked 29th nationally in total offense (409.5 yards per game). Last year, after being lured out of Northwestern by Cal coach Jeff Tedford, Dunbar put together the Pac 10's top-ranked scoring offense at 32.8 points per game, while putting up more than 400 yards per game again.

Need more proof Dunbar knows offense? After serving as offensive coordinator at Toledo, Dunbar was promoted to assistant head coach in 1995. The MAC squad ended the season ranked nationally and set 21 offensive school records, according to Northwestern University.

You can argue, though I think Urban Meyer and exceptional talent had something to do with it, that Northwestern's spread offense laid the blueprint for the defending national champs.

"When we started in 2000, there were three or four teams using it," NU offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar said. "Now everybody's got some element of it." ...

There are innovators in football, but plagiarists work just as well.

When coaches see something they want to apply to their offense, they go straight to the source to see how it works. ... Florida coach Urban Meyer and Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon both attended NU's spring practices to learn its offense. The pair coached Bowling Green at the time with Meyer as head coach
and Brandon as one of his assistants.

"They came, spent two or three days and they got everything we have," [Northwestern's head coach said at the time]. "We gave them our offense.

But Dunbar's resume is not without a blemish. His stint in Cali was too brief not to over look. Tedford and Dunbar said all of the right things when Brewster brought the spread guru to Minnesota, but the numbers and press clipings suggest Tedford and Dunbar couldn't make their philosophies mesh. While the Golden Bears had the top offense in the Pac 10, the offense sputtered down the stretch, according to the Oakland Tribune.

The Bears bogged down offensively down the stretch. In the final three regular-season games against Arizona, USC and Stanford, the Bears scored a combined three offensive touchdowns.

The sluggish offense seemed to be a byproduct of two diverging styles. While it was widely reported that Tedford brought in Dunbar to add another element to his more traditional offense, in the end, the two coaches couldn't see completely eye-to-eye. "Our goal was to meld the two concepts and not to be solely a spread team," Tedford told the Oakland Tribune. "I think he is of the mind to be 100 percent in the spread. He has had a lot of success doing that." Tedford liked the spread, but wasn't in love with it like Dunbar. Tedford continued:

"We're always going to have some aspect of two backs, with tight ends involved," he said. "I liked what we were doing with the spread, and we're going to continue to do some. But we're never going to do it every down."

This should tell Golden Gopher fans a couple things. First, should Brewster do as he has suggested, and relinquish all play calling to Dunbar, the Gophers should eventually be a high-powered offense. But it won't be anything like your Glen Mason, run it down your throat offenses. The tight end productivity that has helped the Gophers should fall by the wayside. Dunbar won't abandon the run, not even close, but he'll accomplish running yards by spreading the defense across the 53-yard-wide field. The Gophers won't play smash mouth, they'll explot mismatches with slower linebackers.

That all sounds splendid, if Dunbar's Golden Gophers had the personnel to make it happen. Leaving out the troublesome quarterback position, which will be addressed in depth, probably ad nauseum in the future, the Gophers have shockingly poor depth at wide receiver, perhaps the position most important to make Dunbar's spread offense thrive. USA Today's 2007 Gopher preview noticed the same thing.

Perhaps the greater challenge for new offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar, whose 2005 Northwestern offense averaged 500.3 yards per game, is rounding up enough receivers to run the spread. There are plenty of question marks after Ernie Wheelwright and Eric Decker.

Question marks is being kind. While Decker reportedly impressed during the team's spring game, both he and Wheelwright caught just 26 balls last season. Logan Payne and Matt Spaeth led the team in receptions with 59 and 47 respectivley. The rest of the receiving corps, include JUCO transfer Marc Cheatham, Lakeville sophmore Andy Metz, Plainview Junior Michael Kasten, sophomore Ben Kuznia, sophomore Mike Chambers and Rochester native Marcus Sherels. Incoming freshman Tray Herndon and Shane Potter don't project as immediate impact players.

Aside from Wheelright and Decker, Gopher receivers caught 19 balls last season--all of them landing in the hands of Chambers.

Gopher fans may come to appreciate Mike Dunbar's spread offense, but these Gophers are built for Glen Mason-style stuff-it-down-your-throat football.

All of this will be a moot point, however, when some kid named Michael Floyd decides to don maroon and gold.

This was the first in five--maybe six depending on if Tubby ever hires a recruiting coordinator/dir. of basketball operations--profiles of new Gopher assistant coaches. Coming soon: Defensive Coordinator Everett Winters and hoops assistants Ron Jirsa, Vince Taylor and some guy named Saul Smith.


Tom said...

good info on Dunbar, I thought you might be interested in this that I found...

Paging Jim Shikenjanski said...

LOL. I had seen that, Tom. I was hoping I could find an old picture of JimS, but to no avail so far.