Photo: Michael Dwyer / AP
Rhett Lashlee is 34. So is John Dunn. They were born two months apart. The difference that does not show up on any birth certificate is Dunn has never been a college offensive coordinator.
For such a vital football job at UConn, that will raise questions. Randy Edsall has his answer. In explaining his decision Friday to hire Dunn to replace Lashlee, the UConn coach drew a parallel to his own career.
“Once George O’Leary gave me the opportunity to be a defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, when I came from Jacksonville of the NFL [in 1998], we tied for the ACC championship and set a record with turnovers for touchdowns,” Edsall said. “A lot of times guys just have to have that opportunity. John is sharp. John is one of the sharpest guys I’ve been around.”
Dunn, too, comes from the NFL Edsall made much of that experience. Dunn was an offensive assistant this past season for the Chicago Bears before John Fox was fired as head coach on Jan. 1. Dunn had been hired as a Bears’ quality control coach after leaving Maryland following the 2015 season.
It was at College Park that Dunn, tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator starting in 2011, struck a bond with then-Maryland head coach Edsall.
“I was impressed with him,” Edsall said. “He was going to be the next guy I would have hired as a coordinator.”
When Lashlee left last week to become offensive coordinator at SMU, Edsall got that chance. UConn athletic director David Benedict, who had been at Auburn, was the one who seized the opportunity to bring Lashlee from Auburn to UConn before last season. A meeting with Edsall went well and Lashlee signed a three-year deal for $350,000 a year, a pay cut of about $250,000 from Auburn where he had been offensive coordinator for four years.
UConn went from 122nd the nation in total offense at 320 yards per game to 49th under Lashlee, averaging 415.2 yards. The Huskies (3-9) went from last in the nation in scoring at 14.8 points to 23.6 points (103rd). UConn had hoped Lashlee would stay at least two years. He left after one. Although Lashlee spoke about taking the SMU job to return his family closer to home in Arkansas, he also chased the opening for Rutgers offensive coordinator.
“I always keep a list,” Edsall said. “John was my target for this job.”
When Edsall was fired at Maryland six games into 2015, offensive coordinator Mike Locksley was elevated to interim head coach. Edsall said Dunn assisted in play calling the remainder of the season and was responsible for much of the game planning. He already had been handling red-zone work.
“He did a great job,” Edsall said. “We’re going to be a multiple, no-huddle offense that’s going to use tempo, that’s going to use personnel groupings and formations to give us an advantage.
“The tempo stuff is always good. There are ways to use it. You’ve also got to get a first down to make it effective. He watched our games. He saw some things. He’ll incorporate what we have now that is good and will expand to make us better because of his expertise.”
Dunn, who will also serve as quarterbacks coach, signed a two-year contract worth $300,000 per year. He played quarterback and tight end at North Carolina before a neck injury cut his career short. He became a graduate assistant at Chapel Hill. He also was a graduate assistant under Les Miles at LSU. As recruiting coordinator at Maryland, he landed some five-star recruits. He recruited DJ Moore, who became one of the premier wide receivers in the nation.
“I know from being with the Lions after Maryland, the NFL experience expands you, you get into different systems,” Edsall said. “John Fox, who I’ve known a long time, raved about him. Believe me, John Dunn understands offense.”