UCF’s hiring of Johnny Dawkins to lead the Men’s Basketball program has not exactly been met with the same ecstasy as that of Scott Frost. There are reasons for this, but allow me to defend the hiring of Coach Dawkins with more fervor than others have to this point.
Donnie Jones was always kept at arm’s length by the Knights fan base, and with some reason. He was a Keith Tribble network hire from a conference rival (Marshall) who simply never clicked with the fans on a personal level. While this was Donnie’s nature, I can’t help but think this contributed to the weight of momentum against him the past few years. That was in no way a deciding factor, but when you analyze the reaction to his firing, it was met with everything from relief to outright joy. Anyone but Donnie, many thought.
That’s not good enough if you’re Danny White. You have to hit the next hire.
White, a basketball guy, didn’t have to go far – Dawkins is a through-and-through Duke guy, where he played for four years, winning the 1986 Naismith Trophy, and later assisted Coach K for a decade.
Here are highlights of Dawkins from his college days:
It should be noted that White’s father is also Duke’s A.D.
Dawkins left the protective fold in Durham for another high-level academic institution, Stanford, where he spent eight seasons. But his tenure was considered a disappointment, and after four 20-win campaigns and just one NCAA Tournament appearance (although he did win the NIT twice) and no conference titles, Dawkins was fired.
The reaction in Palo Alto was eerily similar to the reaction to Jones’ dismissal here in Orlando. Under Mike Montgomery, the Cardinal reached the NCAA 13 of 14 seasons, so Dawkins’ reign was considered a giant step backward.
A couple of things on Dawkins’ Stanford tenure though:
- This was Dawkins’ first job. He didn’t take a mid-major job and then move up to Stanford, as most highly-though-of assistants would (including Tommy Amaker from Duke).
- As this piece by Do-Hyoung Park of The Stanford Daily points out, Stanford cares about its graduation rates a lot, so he couldn’t take risks on recruits who might leave early.
- It’s hard to get into Stanford – harder than UCF. Its admissions rate dropped from about 15% in the mid-2000s to around 5% now.
So yes, it was a disappointing eight years for Dawkins, but his job got harder when he got there, and then didn’t get any easier. Sometimes it’s the second time around when a guy figures it out.
At UCF, Dawkins doesn’t have to deal with some of the things Stanford makes you deal with. That degree of freedom, coupled with the fact that his boss is a basketball guy with ties to the Duke family, should enable Dawkins to build the infrastructure within UCF basketball that has been lacking since the team moved out of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Dawkins’ NBA chops cannot be denied, either. Having played for nine seasons in San Antonio, Philadelphia and Detroit, and alongside the likes of David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Grant Hill and Joe Dumars, he has the right network of his own in place – an attractive lure for recruits.
Here’s video proof of Dawkins’ NBA career:
So here we are, with a top-notch assistant from Duke and former head coach of a Power Five team, and fans are saying, “Meh.”
In a way, it’s reminiscent of the reaction to George O’Leary in 2004 – A recovering power conference coach comes down to UCF with an eye on establishing badly-needed infrastructure within their program. For all his faults, O’Leary did that and more for UCF Football.
Now Johnny Dawkins can do it for UCF Basketball.