Since the 2007-08 season, when the Red Foxes went 18-14, Marist College has endured 11 consecutive losing seasons — including a record of 1-29 in 2009-2010. Out of 351 schools that play Division I college basketball, the Red Foxes had the second-worst record during that time.
John Dunne, who became the new head coach in April of 2018, was the latest hire brought in to turn around one of the nation’s worst college basketball programs. Marist was able to lure him in a very rare circumstance in college basketball — a coach leaving one school (Saint Peter’s University, in Jersey City, where he had been for 12 years) for another in the same conference.
We sat down with him recently to talk about getting the first year under his belt — he went 12-19 last season — his expectations for the program, and whether he can be the one to turn it around.
What was your first year like on the sidelines this past year?
Last year was about setting the culture for the future. It was about winning as many games as we could. We tried to set the tone. Those kids gave me everything they had; we just didn’t have the athleticism and the length to cover the ground we needed to cover.
This year we’re going to be young, but we’re going to be athletic.
Much has been made of Marist basketball’s failures the past decade or so. What was your charge from your bosses? How do you turn this around when others couldn’t?
From my standpoint, Marist is a campus and institution I always wanted to work for. I didn’t get into this business to try to be the next coach at a St. John’s. I wanted to be a part of a vibrant campus and coach the game I love. Frankly, we didn’t talk about the past in our conversations (during the hiring process).
We talked about what Marist is and what it could be. The other sports programs are thriving. The biggest thing to getting good players [is] to get them on campus and let the campus be part of the process. Show them how beautiful it is. I don’t see why this thing can’t be turned around. It’s coach-speak, but you have to work really hard.
Can you bring in an NBA-level type recruit, or does a small school like Marist have to develop one during his time here?
That’s a great question. It’s not impossible, that’s for sure. I would never say never, but at our level and our conference, it’s much less likely that it would ever happen.
With a year under your belt, what are your expectations for year two?
If the bounces go the right way, and the guys are as tough-minded as I think they are, I think we can make a run at the end of the year (in the conference playoffs). We definitely have talent, but we have zero experience.
Early in the season, you’ll see some good moments and some not-so-good moments. If we can be consistent by the end of the year, we have enough athletes to be one of the top three teams in the league.