Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dean of A-Sun Coaches Happiest at Stetson

The year is 1977.

The first Apple Computer goes on sale. Jimmy Carter is elected as the President of United States and the first oil flows through the Trans Alaskan Oil Pipeline. The precursor to the GPS system in use today is started by US Department of Defense. Elvis Presley dies from a heart attack at age 42. “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” is released and the Eagles are topping the charts with “Hotel California.”

The average cost of new house is $49,300.00, the average income per year is $15,000.00 and the cost of a gallon of gas is $.65.

And Pete Dunn is in his first year at Stetson University as a coach.

More than three decades later, the veteran Dunn is still leading the Hatters, one of the Atlantic Sun Conference’s most prolific programs. As a master teacher, Dunn has guided the Stetson baseball program to great successes on the field. The numbers speak for themselves:

•   He has led Stetson to 1,202 victories, which ranks eighth on the list of active coaches.
•   His Stetson teams have averaged 36.5 wins a year over his 32 seasons.
•   He has taken the Hatters to 16 NCAA Regional Tournament appearances.
•   He has helped Stetson to eight Atlantic Sun Conference titles and has been named league coach of the year a record six times.
•   He has sent 72 players on to play professional baseball. Five of those players were drafted in the first four rounds of the MLB Amateur Draft, and seven went on to reach the Major Leagues. 

But Pete Dunn is more than just a baseball coach, although being a baseball coach is all he ever really wanted to do. Looking beyond the wins, conference titles, and all of the other accolades that have come along with guiding a successful program, Dunn is still excited about his profession because he enjoys having an impact on the lives of the young men who play for him. He enjoys being a teacher – whether he is teaching a player how to bunt properly, or teaching a life lesson.

“I like teaching. That’s what coaches are, teachers,” Dunn says. “I have my teaching certificate and taught in the public schools prior to coming back to Stetson to coach, so I’m a teacher by trade. I think it’s rewarding to take these young men and not only mold them into good players who are team oriented but, more importantly, teach them life skills which will make them better people.”

While Dunn’s tenure makes him the dean of the conference, he also leads of list of many veteran coaches that continue to drive the A-Sun forward and into the national spotlight. Dunn and his nine other colleagues represent more than 5,400 victories, and their careers span 190 years of coaching.

Included in that list is Jacksonville’s Terry Alexander, who is in his 33rd year as JU, the 22nd as head coach. Belmont’s Dave Jarvis is in his 30th year of coaching, the last 15 of which have been in Nashville.

KSU’s Mike Sansing has been at it for 21 years. USC Upstate’s Matt Fincher and ETSU’s Tony Skole have been coaches for 15 years. Although in his second season at North Florida, Smoke Laval is in his 13th season as a coach. The “babies” of the group include Lipscomb’s Jeff Forehand (11 years, 5 at LU), FGCU’s Dave Tollett (10) and Mercer’s Craig Gibson (9). 

Dunn has opportunities to experience much in the sport that he loves so much. He played professional baseball, taught and coached at the high school level, coached with legendary coach Ron Polk at Georgia Southern and as an assistant with the 1998 United States National Team, and he has continued to teach the game to international players.

In honor of his 1,000th win, the City of DeLand proclaimed February 9, 2007 (opening day) as“Pete Dunn Day.” Later in that same year he was inducted, along with his God-son Chipper Jones, into the Central Florida Sports Hall of Fame.

His vision and hard work helped Stetson build a stadium that quickly garnered acclaim as one of the nation’s finest collegiate facilities. Melching Field at Conrad Park, a$4.5 million stadium jointly built by Stetson University and the City of DeLand, opened on Feb. 12, 1999. The facility once again hosts the Atlantic Sun Conference Baseball Championship, the ninth time the event has been in DeLand in the facilities’ 14 years of existence.

In the years since first getting the chance to lead the baseball program at his alma mater, there have been many personal and professional accomplishments. There have also been opportunities to take his coaching talents elsewhere.

“I have had several opportunities to leave,” says Dunn. “It was exciting and nice to be courted other schools, especially by an SEC school. But, it all goes back to the fact that I think this is one of the best spots in the nation to be. Stetson has great geography, great facilities and a very supportive administration.

“For me, the reward has been to be able to be as successful as we have, for as long as we have, at the school that I played at and graduated from. There are not a whole lot of guys who have done that.

“It has been a great ride,” Dunn continues. “There have been a lot of changes, but that is life. I say this in all sincerity, I have been very, very blessed and fortunate that I have been able to surround myself with awfully good people.”

The challenges that come with coaching have also changed over the years, but Dunn says he still relishes the opportunities he has to have an impact on young players.

“One of the things that’s remained constant is that the guys who play on this level still love the game,” says Dunn. “Most of them want to play at the next level, but obviously most don’t get that opportunity. The nice thing is that the players we get here at Stetson are academically oriented, which means their parents have pushed them to be good students as well as good baseball players. You have to be disciplined in order to be a good enough student to get into Stetson and do well.

“I think we get a higher-caliber kid. I’ve always believed we have higher-caliber kids here at Stetson because of the academics.”

Dunn is asked often about how much longer he wants to coach. He has a passion outside of baseball, but his commitment to the Hatters’ baseball program prevents him from spending as much time as he would like on his boat.

“I love to fish,” Dunn says. “I have always said that baseball is my profession and fishing is my passion. One of these days I look forward to my only worry being where I am I going to fish today.”

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