The Baker Dunleavy era has officially begun. The former Villanova associate head coach was officially introduced as the new head coach at Quinnipiac University Tuesday afternoon.
A player for the Wildcats between 2002-06, Dunleavy returned to the program as director of basketball operations in 2010 following a post-graduate role on Wall Street working for Merrill Lynch. In four seasons with Dunleavy as associate head coach under Jay Wright, Villanova posted an overall record of 129-17 and captured the 2016 NCAA National Championship.
“It was something that as a player, I didn’t think I wanted to do,” Dunleavy said, reflecting on early thoughts of coaching. “Then as I left the game, it became clear to me that I missed the boat and I needed to get back into it. Coach Wright was gracious enough to have me back in the program in various roles and I worked my way back up.”
In order to leave the success of Villanova and the only program he has ever known, Dunleavy had to be sure to find the right fit. As he learned more about the Quinnipiac community, he became convinced the school’s vision matched his own, and that he could successfully bring the Villanova culture to Hamden.
“I just felt like this was something that lined up really well with Villanova, my experience there, and the type of kids you can recruit.” Dunleavy said of the opportunity at Quinnipiac. “The region itself is a region that I’m used to recruiting, so the relationships will still hold true. It’s a school that cares about academics, a well-rounded school, and those are things that are really important to me. The final piece was understanding the vision and commitment of the leadership of the school. That may be more important than anything, and there’s no doubt that’s in place here.”
“He brought a very good sense of understanding of our mission and identity, and how we wanted to build the program along those lines,” athletic director Greg Amodio revealed as what set Dunleavy apart during the hiring process. “In many ways, those are congruent with what Villanova has done. We want to be a program known for integrity and a positive culture and doing it the right way, and I think he was committed to doing that.”
Wright, the man responsible for building that Villanova culture, issued a statement on Dunleavy included in Quinnipiac’s official press release:
“We have had many great assistants – Baker is one of the best ever. Being a former player he knew our system better than anyone. He has been ready to lead a program for years and wanted the perfect fit. He found it at Quinnipiac. Baker and Chrissi will be missed dearly at Villanova and we all wish them the best!”
Dunleavy spoke highly of his mentor and the lessons he hopes to bring along from Villanova to Quinnipiac.
“He doesn’t ask his players anything he’s not willing to do himself in terms of how hard he works,” Dunleavy said of Wright. “He’s got an incredible intensity on the court and is able to impart that on his team. Our teams have always played with great effort and grit, but then when you step off the court treat people the right way. It’s not a matter of not getting in trouble and being perfect, but just being people that the school wants to claim and can be proud of.”
After meeting with the Quinnipiac administration and becoming familiar with the facilities – including the $52 million TD Bank Sports Center constructed in 2007 – Dunleavy felt comfortable and enthusiastic about joining the Bobcat community.
“I think the most impressive thing was walking around and seeing what’s already in place,” Dunleavy added of the University. “So many times you go places and hear their vision for the program, and they say ‘okay we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.’ Well here, what they can say is ‘we’ve done this, we’ve provided this, we’ve built this and it’s at your disposal.’ That was staggering and really inspiring, that a lot of those things had been done by taking action, not just talking about it.”
Dunleavy’s father, Mike Dunleavy Sr. is currently the head coach at Tulane University. Always willing to provide a helping hand, the elder Dunleavy has thoroughly supported his son at every rung along his climb up the coaching ladder. As for a future series between the Bobcats and the Green Wave?
“For me, I’d like to keep it really simple right now and keep my family ties tight,” Dunleavy the younger said with a laugh. “There’s going to be enough craziness going around. I don’t need my dad mad at me or me mad at him. Maybe in the future; maybe at some point.”
Inheriting a roster with two member of last year’s All-MAAC Rookie Team including league Rookie of the Year Mikey Dixon, Dunleavy faces the immediate challenge of keeping those players in Hamden, CT. Both Dixon and classmate Peter Kiss have requested their release from the program since the announcement of Dunleavy’s hire. The team met with their new coach prior to Tuesday’s press conference and Dunleavy is scheduled to meet one-on-one with each member of the squad in the coming weeks.
Junior forward Chaise Daniels was reported to have asked for his release from the program as well, but announced via Twitter during the press conference his intention to remain with the program. Daniels was the team’s third-leading scorer a season ago, averaging 13.0 ppg along with 6.2 rpg.
Joining Dunleavy’s coaching staff will be Tom Pecora, Shaun Morris, and Anthony Goins.
Pecora took over the head coaching role at Hofstra following Wright’s departure to Villanova in 2001. He led the program for nine years, making three NIT appearances before moving on to Fordham for an additional five seasons.
Morris and Goins own assistant experience under brothers Joe and James Jones. Morris most recently served as associate head coach under Joe Jones at Boston University, while Goins was an assistant under James Jones at Yale.
For all involved at Quinnipiac, a return to a consistent winning culture remains the main goal. The program has not posted a winning record since going 20-12 in the 2013-14 season. Under Dunleavy, hope is that the Bobcats will soon compete for MAAC regular season and tournament titles.
“I think ultimately we want to get to a point where it’s not a flash in the pan type of thing,” Amodio said of expectations within the next five years. “The goal is, as we get into year three, can we get to where we’re winning 20-plus games, getting to the MAAC semifinals, getting to the championship game, competing for the championship on a regular basis? We have all the assets in place to do that: great facility, great operating, quality coaching staff and a great assistant coaching pool to attract really good guys to get around Baker. We just have to take advantage of those assets and be in a position where we’re putting 20-plus wins on the board every year and we’re competing for that MAAC championship.
“I want this program to be running at a high level,” Dunleavy added. “I want it to be a team that contends for regular-season titles in this league. I think anybody that has been at this level of college basketball knows you want to win your conference tournament. You want to go to the NCAA Tournament. You want to validate yourself with that.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.