South/East Xtra: At least for now, Dunn steps away as a high school coach

BASKETBALL


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It was more than three decades ago, but Joe Dunn remembers exactly how he felt that steamy August afternoon.

Nervous to make the most of his first opportunity to pursue a dream and break into coaching basketball, Dunn meticulously prepared for an interview he had scored with legendary North Catholic coach Don Graham.

Anxious to make as good an impression as possible, Dunn recalls walking into North Catholic's unique gymnasium for his interview at half court.

"I had gone over everything in my head," Dunn said earlier this week of his interview to become the coach of the Trojans' freshman basketball and football teams while he was in his early 20s.

"I went over my philosophy of basketball, what I say if I got the question of what I would do if I was in the position, what kind of drills I'd utilize, everything.

"Then I get there and we're standing at half court, so I say, 'Mr. Graham, I'm really interested in coaching basketball with you.'

"So he said, 'Well, OK. Can you cheer?' So I say, 'Yes,' and he says 'I can teach you the rest. End of interview, you're hired.'"

Smart man, Graham. Whatever he taught Dunn, a Saint Vincent College graduate, he still was utilizing it 30-some years later.

After a 26-year career as a head coach at three different WPIAL schools, Dunn resigned from his position at Trinity last week. Dunn has a 324-286 career record and had just led the once-woebegone Hillers to the WPIAL playoffs each of the past four seasons.

Dunn, 55, wants to spend more time with his family.

"The old guys in coaching, the only time I ever heard them lament anything about their job was when they'd talk about the stuff they missed with their kids," Dunn said.

"I spent an awful lot of years coaching other people's children and helping raise them, and I just know that this window of opportunity to be with my family at this point in time is a very narrow time span.

"I've seen it come and go pretty quickly already."

As Dunn spoke over the phone, the familiar sounds of bouncing basketballs and squeaky shoes resonated in the background. But instead of running a summer conditioning session or coaching a summer league game, Dunn was able to be just like any other parent would be in watching his 9-year-old son play.

In addition to a son who is entering fourth grade, Dunn has two daughters who will be students at Trinity this coming school year -- one a sophomore, the other a freshman, both two-sports athletes.

"Hopefully the next time you call, you'll be doing stories on them," Dunn said.

Dunn is also a history teacher who's involved to the point he wrote the curriculum for his own course. He is not giving up that gig.

It doesn't sound as if he's permanently giving up coaching, either. Dunn expressed a desire to coach his kids in AAU ball and left open the possibility he'd return to the high school ranks.

"I resigned from the basketball position -- but I'm not retired," Dunn said.

"I don't know if it's forever, but for now, with this window of opportunity, it's the right thing to do."

In addition, of course, to Graham, Dunn pointed to plenty of other people as being influential in shaping him into a coach who would lead a team to its first four-year run of consecutive playoff appearances and four of the school's six all-time playoff victories.

Chuck Rutter and Jim Palmer from Seton-LaSalle, Tom Miscik at Mount Pleasant and former Trinity athletic director Ed Dalton, who persuaded him to take the Hillers' job 11 years ago, were among the people Dunn wanted to thank.

He also endorsed longtime assistant Stan Noszka as his successor.

"He's really earned the opportunity," Dunn said. "He's super dedicated and knowledgeable and has been a big part of our success."

Dunn, who was born in Pittsburgh and lives in North Franklin Township in Washington County, also wanted to point out all the players he's had over the years.

"It really does come down to having your players really buy into it," Dunn said. "You can't win those games or win those championships or appear in those playoffs without having real good players who are committed and bought into something bigger than them as individuals, and I've been fortunate to have that."

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