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Can Mike Dunlap — or Anyone — Save Loyola Marymount Basketball?

It’s been almost 25 years since Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble seized the college hoops spotlight, and a new coach hopes to finally lead LMU to sustained success

Mike Dunlap arrived as an assistant coach at USC in April 1986, wide-eyed and eager to learn after following head coach George Raveling from Iowa to California. The coaching regime change set in motion a complicated series of events and miscommunications that ended with Raveling informing star freshmen Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble that their scholarships would not be renewed. The duo had been recruited by another coaching staff  the one that Raveling and his staff displaced  and Raveling believed that the players were planning to transfer, so he beat them to the punch. By effectively revoking their scholarships, Raveling was giving himself extra time to recruit replacements for Gathers, Kimble, and fellow freshman Tom Lewis, who also left USC after that year. “We did not want to leave USC,” Kimble recently said. “That I can tell you. It just turned out that way.” Dunlap said he believed that Raveling never had a chance to keep the freshmen: “I don’t think Coach was motivated to lose Gathers or Kimble or Lewis, but it was already [a] fait accompli.” At the time, Dunlap probably never would have guessed that the school Gathers and Kimble left USC to attend, Loyola Marymount, would be the same program he’d be hired to save nearly 30 years later.

Back in the mid-’80s, Loyola Marymount, a Jesuit university that rests atop a bluff overlooking West Los Angeles, had an unheralded basketball program. Gathers and Kimble were routed to LMU by Dave Hagan, a Philadelphia Roman Catholic priest who had coached and mentored Gathers throughout his youth. Hagan believed it was important for the young men to stay on the West Coast, far away from Philadelphia and its potential distractions and bad influences. Hagan recommended Loyola Marymount because he was familiar with its coach, Paul Westhead, who had been the coach at Philadelphia’s La Salle University throughout the 1970s. LMU, at the time, was “kind of folksy, kind of regional,” recalled Westhead, who, like his star transfers, had also recently departed a well-known Southern California basketball institution. Westhead had coached the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA championship in 1980, but he was fired two seasons later after falling out of favor with Magic Johnson.

Westhead was named coach at Loyola Marymount in 1985, and he began implementing a groundbreaking run-and-gun offense. Westhead’s Lions ran and scored, and when they felt like they could no longer run and score, Westhead pushed them to run and score some more. Defense often seemed optional. The system was a player’s dream — like kids encouraged to indulge on ice cream, Westhead’s players had a perennial green light to shoot. Dunlap, who played for the Lions before beginning his coaching career there in 1980, watched from afar. He visited Westhead’s coaching clinics and marveled at the coach’s attention to every detail required for his system to succeed. Westhead demanded that his players never let an opponent’s made basket touch the floor before Loyola Marymount inbounded it to push its offense back down the floor. “It was like watching Julia Child on television,” Dunlap recalled. “She’s cooking shrimp, and she had onion, garlic, and cilantro, and she had a little butter and you go, Are you serious?” The ingredients were simple, Dunlap explained, “but it was the timing of the heat and the way she took it out of the pan and plated it. It was just these little things. Westhead’s like that. He has these little nuances that if you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss them.”

By 1990, Loyola Marymount had captured not just Dunlap’s attention, but the adoration of the entire college basketball world. Gathers and Kimble had become electrifying talents, while Westhead’s offense seemed to create a new, hypercharged version of the sport, with final scores like 157-115 and 152-137. They were hitting their stride for a deep March Madness run when Gathers died shortly after collapsing on the court during the first half of a March 4, 1990, game against Portland. Gathers, who was found to have the heart condition hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, was 23 years old. The nation watched as Loyola Marymount rallied for an NCAA tournament run after the tragedy, and the 11-seed Lions sprinted their way to the Elite Eight. During the tourney, Kimble famously converted his first foul shot of each game with his left hand — a tribute to Gathers, who had struggled at the line and had tried southpaw free throws as a remedy.

But as quickly as the school had arrived in the spotlight, the program vanished. Loyola Marymount lost to UNLV in the 1990 Elite Eight, and the school has not made an NCAA tournament appearance since. The program has experienced moments of mild success here and there. More often, the Lions have cycled through losing season after losing season and coach after coach, leaving students and alumni disillusioned with the program. “When Gathers died, the nation saw that death,” Dunlap said. “It took a long time for this institution to get over it. They felt it. It was at a pivotal moment in time, where the flower was going to blossom, and it never blossomed because of that event.”

This season, Dunlap is the latest coach to attempt to right the Loyola Marymount ship. He took the job in March, after a circuitous route back to the place where he started his coaching career. Dunlap, like Westhead did decades ago, came to LMU after an abbreviated head-coaching stint in the NBA. The Charlotte Bobcats hired Dunlap as head coach in 2012, a detour that lasted only a season before Steve Clifford took over and led an upgraded roster to the 2014 playoffs. Dunlap had a limited amount of time to execute his turnaround plans in Charlotte  he arrived one season after the Bobcats went 7-59 and set a record for the worst winning percentage in history during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.

At Loyola Marymount, Dunlap is taking on a challenge that has bedeviled pretty much every coach who has worked at the school in the past 25 years: how to turn the Lions into a winning program. There are a number of reasons to believe that LMU could become a mid-major force. Start with its campus, which has the most gorgeous environment of any school in Los Angeles and which should be a real asset in recruiting. It’s not uncommon to hear that USC and UCLA are close to the beach, a claim that might cause any Angeleno familiar with downtown or Westwood traffic to burst out in laughter. Loyola Marymount is walking distance from the Pacific Ocean and a quick ride up Lincoln Boulevard from famous locales like Venice and Santa Monica. Besides the lifestyle benefits, LMU can offer recruits a connection to the Gathers-Kimble era and one of the most beloved and memorable college basketball teams of the past three decades. California also happens to be a hotbed of basketball talent  last season, the only state that produced more Division I players was Texas. Sure, the Pac-12 schools will likely beat LMU to the All-America-level recruits, but California’s talent pool is so deep that even with the state’s second-tier players, Dunlap could probably build a competitive program. Yet while fellow West Coast Conference schools Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s churn out NBA players and earn near-annual bids to the NCAA tournament, Loyola Marymount, with all of its geographical and historical advantages, has finished dead last in the conference standings for two straight seasons. Why the hell hasn’t LMU been better over the years, and what can Dunlap do to get the program there?

“It’s important to see if we can swing this little tanker of mediocrity and inconsistency into something that’s better,” Dunlap said. “That’s the challenge.”

gathers-hank-kimble-bo-loyola-marymountDouglas C. Pizac/AP

Lane Bove joined Loyola Marymount as senior vice-president for student affairs the same year that Gathers and Kimble transferred from USC. She developed the school’s academic program for athletes and worked closely with the basketball team. LMU, she found, had built a formidable basketball program almost by accident. “We were lucky,” Bove recalled. “In some ways, we didn’t have a program in place. It’s not as if we had the foundational pieces for us to get to the Elite Eight. Raveling goes to USC; we get these two incredible players who come to us because the priest in Philadelphia happens to know Westhead. It was kind of magical. It’s not as if we systematically went out and did it.”

No one predicted just how devastating the combination of Gathers and Kimble would be. Jay Hillock, an assistant under Westhead, began to see their potential during practices when Gathers and Kimble were sitting out the 1986-87 season because of NCAA transfer rules. “They were beating the team we were putting out there by 30 points in the scrimmages,” Hillock said. “It was like men against boys.”

In 1989-90, Loyola Marymount led all Division I schools in scoring, with 122.4 points per game. Gathers, the team’s anchor, averaged 29 points, after scoring 32.7 per game a season earlier. After his death, the LMU players decided to continue their season in the NCAA tournament to honor him. Loyola Marymount faced defending national champion Michigan, a 3-seed, in the second round. The game was held in Long Beach, a half-hour drive from the Loyola Marymount campus, and the atmosphere inside the Long Beach Arena was charged with emotion. William Husak, then the athletic director at Long Beach State, which played its home games at the arena, remembered watching Michigan’s players tower over their opponents from Loyola Marymount. “It was like the circus coming to town,” said Husak, who now holds the AD position at Loyola Marymount. There’s no way LMU can beat them without Hank, Husak recalled thinking before the Michigan upset. “Ten minutes into the game,” Husak said. “That’s about the time LMU went on a pretty good run and Michigan just was not going to be able to keep up. It’s still the best basketball game I’ve ever seen.”

Bove remembered a moment when Michigan’s coach, Steve Fisher, stood and looked up at the ceiling before sitting back down, as if he knew there was nothing the Wolverines could do. “It was like [LMU] had been in some way possessed,” Bove said. “There was no way we were not going to win that game.” LMU won 149-115, then the Lions edged Alabama in the Sweet 16 before falling 131-101 to eventual champion UNLV.

After the tournament, the reality of a future without Gathers and Kimble set in. “We had an opportunity to capitalize on that,” Bove said. “We had a lot of support, but there was a decision made not to capitalize on it.” Gathers’s family later filed a $32.5 million lawsuit that hung over the school for years and accused the university, athletic department, and basketball team staff of negligence in recognizing the severity of Gathers’s medical condition. Westhead denied any wrongdoing and eventually filed a defamation suit against one of the Gathers family lawyers. “I can remember this conversation as sure as I’m sitting with him right now,” said Brian Quinn, LMU’s athletic director back then. “[Westhead] said, ‘Can I have 20 seconds of your time?’ He said, ‘I’m on my way to Denver.1 If they offer me a job and the salary’s right, I’m gone.’ That was it. It was like a 20-second conversation.”

With Kimble also headed to the NBA, the Loyola Marymount basketball renaissance was over almost as soon as it started. “When Westhead left, the whole philosophy and reputation just died,” recalled Barry Zepel, who worked as the LMU sports information director. “The school didn’t really care. Athletics wasn’t as important to the Jesuit administration as it was maybe to the students and to the alumni.” Westhead’s assistant, Hillock, was elevated to head coach. “It was very challenging,” Hillock said. “We had a tough schedule and the stars were gone.” In two years under Hillock, the Lions went 16-15 and 15-13 and failed to make it out of the first round of the WCC tournament both years. Hillock tried to preserve Westhead’s up-tempo style, but the system was less potent without NBA-caliber athletes like Kimble and Gathers.

In the aftermath of Gathers’s death, the university turned inward. It lacked the resources to handle the legal battle with Gathers’s family and the media attention it attracted. “We had one sports information guy in the entire athletics program,” Quinn said. Westhead, Quinn, and others were eventually dropped from the lawsuit, which the university settled in 1992. “I always thought maybe the lawsuit and the negative publicity might have affected recruits,” Quinn said. “I’m not sure what other coaches were saying about us. If Paul had come back for another three or four or five years, I think it would have been different to build upon that continuity.”

After two seasons, Hillock was out. “I got fired,” Hillock said. “We had these players that were built to run and then the guy who came in behind me played a more conventional game  [a] power game  and these kids were 170 pounds going against 230-pounders, which didn’t work very well.”

John Olive, a former Villanova assistant coach, replaced Hillock. In five years he amassed a 51-88 record, with the lone winning season coming in 1995-96, with an 18-11 finish. “That was a flash in the pan,” Olive said of Loyola Marymount’s success under Westhead. “Let’s face it. They got three major college transfers  two from USC and one from UCLA.2 That’s highly unusual for any mid-major school, let alone Loyola.”

Olive left Loyola Marymount after the 1996-97 season, and since then the school has burned through five coaches and endured 14 losing seasons. In 1999-2000, the school went winless in conference play. Meanwhile, conference rival Gonzaga has developed into the most successful mid-major program in college basketball, a powerhouse that routinely makes the NCAA tournament and occasionally enters the national championship conversation. “When Gonzaga hit it big, they absolutely made the commitment that basketball was going to pull them out,” said Bove, who served as the WCC president for much of the 1990s. “That was going to be the tail that wagged the dog.” Max Good, LMU’s coach before Dunlap, amassed a 75-104 record over six seasons, and the Lions had only five conference wins over the past two seasons combined.

“You almost want to reverse and say, ‘When you were able to [make the Elite Eight], it might have been an unusual event, a once-in-a-lifetime event  not like you keep doing it year after year,’” Westhead said. “The truth might have been [that] winning was going to be difficult to sustain. Not impossible, but very difficult.”

loyola-marymount-basketball-wcc-tourney-2014Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Inside his office at Loyola Marymount in September, Dunlap finished watching the United States defeat New Zealand in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Throughout the game, he took meticulous notes, jotting down how the teams conducted dribble handoffs on the perimeter. Maybe, he thought, there was a way to incorporate what he saw into LMU’s offense. There are few moments in a day when Dunlap is not consumed by basketball. He even tends to answer questions as a coach, using bullet points to outline his first, second, and third thoughts, and so on.

Back in June 2012, Dunlap was an overwhelming surprise as the Charlotte Bobcats’ choice for a new coach. After his initial interview with the team, Dunlap had been informed he would not be invited back for a final round of talks. “Then they came back four days later and ask if I’d interview a second time,” he recalled.

Dunlap’s coaching career began almost the moment he finished his final season as a player at Loyola Marymount. After cycling through assistant coaching gigs at LMU, Iowa, and USC, he was named head coach at Division III Cal Lutheran in 1989. After five years, Dunlap moved to Australia to coach the Adelaide 36ers. In 1997, he returned to the United States and settled in as coach of Metro State, a Denver-based D-II program. In 2000, while Loyola Marymount was going winless in WCC play, Dunlap’s Metro State Roadrunners won a national championship. They captured another title two years later. In 2006, Dunlap accepted an opportunity to work on George Karl’s staff with the Denver Nuggets.

“I was becoming too hard on the kids,” Dunlap said, explaining why he left Metro State. “I was becoming too hard on the administration. We were in pursuit of 1 percent. We were one of the top programs in America, so when a freshman came in he inherited a lot of burden as opposed to joy. I just became more and more demanding on everybody and I didn’t like who I was becoming. It was my fault, so I had to leave.”

After two years with the Nuggets, Dunlap became an assistant at Arizona, but he decided to seek other opportunities after the school chose Sean Miller over him as the Wildcats head coach. In 2009, Dunlap found himself at Oregon, working as an assistant under Ernie Kent. Coincidentally, Westhead was coaching the Ducks’ women’s team during Dunlap’s time in Eugene. The two would occasionally discuss coaching and their shared Loyola Marymount connection. “I was impressed,” Westhead said. “I thought he was a very smart, intense, hard-working coach.”

By the time the Bobcats hired Dunlap, he had spent three years working under Steve Lavin at St. John’s, including stepping in as the school’s interim head coach while Lavin was recovering from prostate cancer. In Charlotte, Dunlap was charged with developing the Bobcats’ young core of Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He became known in the NBA for conducting rigorous practices, even when critics suggested the league’s schedule wouldn’t permit lengthy workouts for players who are constantly battling fatigue from frequent games and travel. Dunlap said he decided to run the Bobcats his way, following the advice of longtime Temple coach John Chaney, who told Dunlap that “the only thing [a coach] can do is stand in the same place and stand for something.”

“I stayed really optimistic and really positive,” Dunlap said of his NBA experience. “I give myself and the staff high marks there. We had hard practices which were talked about, and that was the only way I thought we could get better. The actual game and some of the schemes that I put together could have been much better. I wish that we were better on defensive transition, for example, and that’s on me. Another thing is that for good or for bad, there were some guys that were at the end of their careers and I don’t think I did a good job of communicating with those guys. I fell short on that and I can do better and learn some lessons there.”

The Bobcats began the season with seven wins in 12 games, but the promising start crashed and burned when Charlotte stumbled into an 18-game losing streak. The Bobcats finished the season with 21 wins and were once again among the worst teams in the NBA. “They had drastically improved,” Dunlap said of his young players’ individual abilities. “Kemba, Bismack  and then there was a plateau on the numerics. So you have a guy upstairs who’s looking at numerics, or an agent that’s calling the general manager saying [the coach] should be playing my guy because Bismack’s not doing this or Gilchrist is not doing this or Kemba’s not doing this. There’s always that little rub where you have to stand in one place and say, ‘When you started this journey, you wanted the young guys developed.’ Now there’s a plateau, but I can’t go in there and do an hour and a half with Bismack. He’s exhausted.” Charlotte fired Dunlap after one season, but Dunlap said he appreciated the experience and enjoyed watching the Bobcats advance to the playoffs after Clifford replaced him.

“I didn’t care how people viewed it,” Dunlap said. “I think every day I learned in that environment. [Charlotte owner Michael Jordan] gave me an opportunity. Even today, if I text him and I reach out to him, he’ll hit me back. The fact that I had that experience, that’s a threshold moment because that’s indelible. It’s great.”

dunlap-mike-charlotte-bobcats-bavetta-dickMarc Serota/Getty Images

Although Dunlap took a year off from coaching during the 2013-14 season, he spent most of the year immersed in basketball. He visited Wake Forest and its coach, his close friend Jeff Bzdelik.3 He observed the Chicago Bulls’ training camp. Now that he’s facing the task of bringing the Loyola Marymount program back to life, Dunlap said he’s where he wants to be.

For a small school that hasn’t seen major college basketball success in nearly 25 years, Dunlap’s hiring is cause for sincere excitement. Any former NBA head coach — even one who got fired after one season — is a major acquisition for LMU. “I think he’s a great hire, not a good hire,” Hillock said. “A lot of their hires [in the past], I’d say, ‘My goodness. What are they doing?’”

“I think it’s the best thing since sliced bread,” Bove said. “Now we have a program in place. We’ve slowly over the years added resources to the program in all different categories and we now have the foundational blocks for a strong program.”

Over the years, LMU has faced numerous hurdles in trying to find a long-term head coach. “Sometimes you haven’t been able to attract [the right coaches] because maybe you haven’t been able to pay the salary that person would be expecting,” explained Husak, the AD. “Sometimes you’re not attracting the right person because you don’t have the right tradition that would allow the person to feel like they’re going to be successful. Sometimes it’s the perception that it’s too hard academically and so you’re not going to get the right kids, or a coach who has to recruit maybe a certain kind of kid and that may be just too tough for them to be successful at LMU.” Loyola Marymount shares its Los Angeles territory with USC and UCLA, two schools that have more prominent programs than LMU and play in the Pac-12, a much stronger conference than the WCC. For years, Loyola Marymount has routinely been out-recruited in Southern California. The school’s high academic standards are admirable, but they have also hindered recruiting. “Of course,” Bove said, when asked if Loyola Marymount had missed on key players because of academics. “Are we going to compete with Louisville and Kentucky? No. [But] can we be a top-50 program? Absolutely.”

This year’s team recently concluded a 12-day trip to Spain. Dunlap tried to ensure that his players bonded with each other by frequently altering roommate assignments. “Bringing them together is a common goal of, ‘We’re not very good and we want to be good,’” he said. Many LMU players come from abroad, from countries like Australia, Nigeria, the Czech Republic, and Zambia. International recruiting has long been among Dunlap’s strengths. Since he began head-coaching at Metro State almost two decades ago, Dunlap has relied on his Australian basketball ties to beef up the talent on his rosters. “That’s in my background,” he said. “It’s a one-stop shot — Sydney, LAX, 10 minutes [and] you’re on our campus, as opposed to maybe going to Seattle or having to go [to the] Midwest or East. You don’t have a two-stop thing, and that’s big for international kids.” Dunlap also hopes to improve LMU’s recruiting of local talent, although the school’s most recent coaching shakeup seems to have hurt it in the short term. Elijah Stewart, last season’s L.A. City Section player of the year, and Compton point guard Kyron Cartwright reneged on commitments to LMU after the previous coach, Max Good, was fired.

At LMU, Dunlap is running a fast-paced offense that uses aspects of Westhead’s system. Dunlap believes the player-friendly style will help attract talent, but he adds that the university must continue developing the basketball program. “One, you have to put the appropriate money in to get a return,” Dunlap said. “There’s an arms race going on in the United States as far as practice gyms, how they eat, how they travel. I think LMU can do better and they want to. Two, part of the problem has been that … [high school coaches] want to give us their thirds, not their firsts. Third, I think that what really attracts a California kid is … style. Our style has to be somewhat up-tempo, pressing, as opposed to playing in the 40s or 50s.”

Anthony Ireland, a three-time All-WCC guard who completed his senior season at LMU in March, said he believed the program needed a coaching change, and that the early feedback from his former teammates on Dunlap’s approach has been positive. Despite a decorated college career that included scoring more than 2,000 points and playing in all 132 of the Lions’ games during his four years on the team, Ireland’s accomplishments were overshadowed by frequent losses.

“I don’t see why it’s not a powerhouse,” Ireland said from France, where he now plays professionally. “Beautiful campus, not too big, not too small. It’s a great league. The only downside is it’s surrounded by the Clippers, the Lakers, UCLA, USC  but I feel like LMU should be right there, just [based] off location and the history that Hank and Bo had.”

Ireland said he had friends in the NBA who had visited Loyola Marymount and told him they would have considered attending the school if they knew how beautiful the campus was and how close it was to the beach. But Ireland also wondered if LMU’s environs were too nice  if the campus somehow dulled the Lions’ competitive edge. Ireland, who is from Connecticut, spent a prep year at the Winchendon School, near the New Hampshire border in rural northern Massachusetts. That year, he felt like the remote location and a harsh winter created the conditions for him to take his game to a new level. “Everybody on the team is mad every day,” Ireland said. “You’ve got to wake up [early], it’s freezing. [You] still got to walk to class. Class is never canceled. But that was the year I probably learned the most. I jumped from being a low-major [or] Division II prospect to a high major, mid-major prospect.

“LMU, I like to think of it as a bubble. Coach Good put it best. [He] always used to say: ‘You guys have it so easy. The hardest decisions you have to deal with is when you wake up in the morning  Do I want my eggs sunny-side up or scrambled?’ That always stuck with me. Every day was a blessing to be up at LMU  at least coming where I’m coming from [in] Connecticut and the inner city. We’ve got the beach right down the street. It’s beautiful every day. Despite losing, you can’t be that mad at anything. You know the next day it’s just going to be a beautiful day, beautiful women, great campus, great environment.”

ireland-anthony-lmuJeff Golden/Getty Images

Officials within the LMU administration and athletic department may have been enthusiastic about Mike Dunlap’s hiring, but former Lions coaches expressed ambivalence or doubt that even Dunlap, with all of his experience, would be able to make a difference. Westhead has watched the program decline from afar. “I’ve followed them, but I’m not around,” he said. “They seem to try different ways to get back into the upper echelon of the league [and] into NCAA tournament play. It’s not easy. I’ve been in and out of college basketball on the men’s side and the women’s side  it’s hard. You have to get players. I think that’s been their major struggle. They just haven’t gotten enough good players at the same time.”

Then there’s Bo Kimble, LMU’s greatest living star, who believes the ex-Lion who deserves to be hired as the next head coach is none other than Bo Kimble. He has remained close to the program throughout his career, first as a professional in the NBA and overseas and now as a volunteer coach at Shoreline Community College near Seattle. Kimble said he still gets excited when he returns to Loyola Marymount. “When I walk on campus I’m definitely happier,” he said. Kimble has expressed his desire to become the Lions’ coach, but the university hasn’t taken him up on the offer. “The only thing that really bothers me,” Kimble said, “is I haven’t been getting a fair look at becoming a coach. Other than that, I’m a die-hard Lion and I always wish the school and all the teams well.”

Kimble said that if he were coach, he would restore Westhead’s system. “I would bring back the 100-points-a-game offense and I would recruit better than anybody on the West Coast because players would want to play that game,” he said. “I’d need a two-year window and guys will start transferring. I’ll recruit the best of the best.

“I would sure like to know what the younger alumni think,” Kimble continued. “I don’t even know if people know that I’ve been applying for the coaching position. It’s a little upsetting that I can’t get an opportunity, yet we continue to struggle. There is a solution and I hope that Dunlap is [it]. I hoped all the coaches would be. But the 25 years kind of speak for themselves.” Kimble said he would continue supporting the school, but wishes Husak had considered him for the position. “He’s a great guy,” Kimble said. “But I think the basketball team under his tenure speaks for itself.”

Loyola Marymount may someday consider hiring Kimble, but the school’s administration would like him to first gain head-coaching experience elsewhere. “I love Bo Kimble,” Bove said. “He’s a terrific guy and he was a terrific student-athlete. He certainly knows basketball. But you don’t just magically wake up one day and be a coach at a Division I program. They often say the greatest 18 inches is moving from assistant coach to head coach. … Bo might have it, but he has never had the experience to show it and I don’t think you can just become a head coach without that kind of experience.”

Meanwhile, Good expressed dismay over how his tenure at LMU ended. He had joined the staff as a favor to the head coach who preceded him, Bill Bayno (now an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors), and Good found himself unexpectedly elevated to the head job after Bayno departed with what was described in the Los Angeles Times as “work-related depression issues.” Good said that if Bayno hadn’t asked him to come to LMU, then Good would have stayed at Bryant University in Rhode Island, where he already had a secure head-coaching position. “I loved Bryant,” Good said. “In retrospect, I never would have left Bryant.”

Good was named WCC Coach of the Year in 2011-12 after he led the Lions to a 21-13 finish and the school’s best record since 1990. His players competed hard for him and his seniors graduated. “We tried to embrace it,” Good said of the program’s history. “There’s no sense in trying to escape it or run from it. People used to say that all these injuries were a hex and they needed to have somebody come in and do some kind of a spiritual whatever to get rid of it. If you buy into that, you’re beat before you start. When we were healthy, we beat USC, UCLA, Notre Dame, Saint Louis. When we were healthy, we were damn good. We just weren’t healthy. I guess that’s my fault.”

Good bemoaned LMU’s strategy regarding nonconference “guaranteed games” — the November and December contests in which stronger programs shoulder the costs of weaker opponents traveling to play at the bigger schools’ home arenas. More often than not, the Lions found themselves on the weaker side of that equation, and the program’s win-loss records suffered for it. Good, not surprisingly, would have preferred for LMU to pay to host lesser programs early in the season, rather than hit the road to play the likes of Vanderbilt and Pittsburgh.

Throughout last season, Good said he’d heard whispers that Dunlap was in line for his job. He felt that even early in the season, he had no chance at retaining the position. The Lions were hit by another slew of injuries and finished 4-14 in WCC play. “I’ll put it this way,” Good said. “In no way, shape, or form would I ever do that.” He was upset that the university appeared to be negotiating with Dunlap before Good had officially lost the job. “I believe in total honesty and I don’t believe in any of these shenanigans,” Good said. “I’m old-school I guess. But I think there has to be some loyalty somewhere. I’m bitter. I’m going to be honest. I’m very bitter.”

Good has since accepted a job as an assistant coach at UNLV, where he was an assistant and interim head coach for two seasons from 1999 to 2001. “I’m really happy and appreciated,” he said of the new position.

Loyola Marymount’s athletic department doesn’t deny that it has long been interested in luring Dunlap back to the school. 
“We’ve stayed in touch over the years,” Husak said. “I’ve always thought he was a good fit for the university. He understands Loyola Marymount, having been a graduate of LMU, and obviously, within the basketball community, he’s held in such high regard for his knowledge and coaching ability.”

Husak believes that he has finally hired the right coach at the right time to regain the program’s long-lost luster. And if he turns out to be wrong, well, there will be no shortage of other candidates eager for an opportunity.

“I pray that Dunlap or anyone else they hire can start winning,” Kimble said. “If not, then hire me, so I can show them how to do it. I’ll coach for free if I have to. Enough is enough.” 

Filed Under: College Basketball, Loyola Marymount Lions, 2014-15 NCAA Basketball Preview, Mike Dunlap, Charlotte Bobcats, Charlotte Hornets, Bo Kimble, Hank Gathers, Paul Westhead, Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, WCC Conference

Jonathan Abrams is a staff writer for Grantland. His book, Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution, is due out in March.

Archive @ JPdabrams