Current job: Head coach, UCF (since 2016)
Previous jobs: Head coach, Stanford (2008-16); assistant coach, Duke
Career head coaching record: 223-149 (.599)
NCAA Tournament appearances: 2
NCAA Tournament record: 3-2
A funny thing happens every March. Some relatively unheralded team will put together a good performance, and that team’s coach will find himself with interest from bigger schools for whatever coaching jobs are open. Usually, it’s some young-ish coach at a school most people haven’t heard of.
A weird thing happened in the 2019 tournament, though. A chalk-heavy Sweet 16 means that there aren’t any coaches who fit that profile whose teams are still playing. The two non-Power 5 teams in the Sweet 16 are coached by Mark Few and Kelvin Sampson. Instead, the name that seems to be popping up is... Johnny Dawkins, the 55-year-old coach of UCF, a school that most people have heard of at this point. Before taking the UCF job, Dawkins was at Stanford, a school that everybody has heard of. But since this has become a popular name with some of the fans, let’s take a look!
Why he’d be a good fit: Like John Thompson III, Dawkins has a degree from a top-notch university (Duke) and also coached at a couple, both as an assistant at Duke and later the head coach at Stanford. (UCF — not so much.) Again, Vanderbilt won’t be anything new to him. He was long thought to be Coach K’s eventual successor at Duke, though since 2008 that focus has moved on to younger, sexier names.
His run at Stanford wasn’t bad, and he’s done well in his three years at UCF. In 11 seasons as a head coach, he’s finished with a .500 record or better in nine of them. Oh, yeah, and he did show some pretty serious coaching chops in piloting UCF to a near-miss against Duke on Sunday. But then...
What’s the problem here? See those NCAA Tournament appearances? He’s got two in eleven years, and since he’s been at Stanford and UCF, he doesn’t have the excuse that he’s been coaching in one-bid leagues where making the tournament is extremely difficult. Dawkins almost never fielded bad teams at Stanford, but it was rare that his teams were all that good — in eight years, he went 66-78 in Pac-12 games. His record at UCF has been considerably better — 33-21 in three years — but that could just be a reflection of the AAC being a relatively easier league (in most years) than the Pac-12, and UCF also generally being closer to the top of the league in terms of resources. Oh yeah, and not having to deal with admissions very often.
Focusing on Dawkins’ quite-good performances in single-elimination formats — he won the NIT twice at Stanford and made a Sweet 16 in his lone tournament appearance there — misses the forest for the trees. The overall resume isn’t great.
Overall thoughts: Dawkins’ resume suggests that he’s the kind of coach who will make your program respectable. He won’t go 0-18 in conference or anything like that, and really, it’s a good bet that he’ll take your program and park it right around .500 in its conference without fail, every year. That’s basically what he did once he got things going at Stanford. Getting beyond that, though, was a struggle, and the Pac-12 wasn’t really a strong enough league at any point in his tenure to think that he just couldn’t make headway against a tough league. Now, on the rare occasions when he does make it to the tournament, his teams do well. But mostly, he’s just made a lot of NIT runs.
I don’t know. Dawkins wouldn’t be a bad hire, but it’s much more the kind of hire that you make when your main concern is “not going 0-18 in the SEC” than making your program a regular in the NCAA Tournament. And, really, if that’s all you want, there are coaches out there who would do that but also offer more perceived upside. If this is the hire, I could live with it, but I’d also feel like we could have done better.