A few hours before Stanford was getting ready to beat Texas on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament regional final, probably about the time the Cardinal was sitting down to a pregame meal, John Dunning and his wife, Julie, were driving to a party.
And not just any party. They were headed to Sunnyvale to be with the first Fremont High School basketball team that Dunning coached in the 1980s.
“They have this Christmas party and reunion every year and we miss it almost every year, because it’s the same weekend as the regional,” Dunning said. “We decided this was a good opportunity.”
He’s taken advantage of a lot of fun opportunities since retiring, not a month after Stanford won the NCAA title a year ago.
At age 66, he walked away. Not that he doesn’t miss it.
“Yes, I do,” Dunning said. “Yeah, I miss it a lot.
“There’s very little that I don’t miss. But, then there’s how many 8-year-old baseball games have I gone to, cross-country meets, and Tuesday I have a piano recital for my grand-daughter.
“Julie and I drove to Montana for a family vacation. I miss it, but there’s all the other cool stuff I’ve been able to do.”
Dunning will be in Kansas City this week as a presenter at the AVCA Convention.
At 6 p.m. Wednesday, he’s talking about “Coaching Evolution –- Growing, Learning and Improving as a Coach and Leader.” And then at 3:45 p.m. Friday, his topic is “Reflections on Setters I Have Coached and Training We Have Used.”
Dunning still works with Art of Coaching and does clinics and he’s done some consulting, “for some clubs and some college folks. Just talking about coaching. That’s a passion of mine and that part’s been fun. There’s still stuff running around in my head that maybe other people haven’t talked about yet, so it’s kind of cool.”
Dunning has been to three Stanford matches this season, including a special night on November 5 when the school honored Dunning and his family.
“When I went to watch Stanford or watched their other matches on TV, watching Kathryn (Plummer) and Morgan (Hentz) and Merete ( Lutz) and Jenna (Gray), and how happy I am for Tami Alade this year for how well she’s done, and how well Megan (McClure) has done this year, stepping into a big role, and Audri (Fitzmorris), you know you have to miss the people, too. That’s the thing you miss the most. There is stuff to miss when you loved it.”
Dunning, who coached in college for 32 years — and never missed the postseason — won back-to-back NCAA titles at Pacific and then coached 16 years at Stanford, where he won three more championships.
In January, he told the team he was leaving and then Stanford hired Kevin Hambly away from Illinois.
“I talked to him in the process, when they were approaching about the job to tell him a little bit about what it’s like at Stanford, but it’s an interesting situation. If he was replacing someone who had lost their job, there wouldn’t be much contact there. That’s kind of normal.”True, not that many coaches retire as Dunning did, leaving the cupboard full.
“I really wanted him to be his own thing and so he and I haven’t talked very much. And that’s OK. I imagine down the road we might. But he needed it to be his. I haven’t talked to the players very much, because I didn’t want him to think I was interfering or anything like that.
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“I’ve done a good job of keeping separate for his sake, which I thought was good.”
Dunning said he when he retired he was told to play a lot of golf to stay out of his wife’s hair.
Julie’s not sick of him and his golf game is improving.
“It’s finally getting a little better,” Dunning said. “It’s taken time, but yesterday I won 12 bucks, so I was a happy guy.”