In his final season as Metro State College's basketball coach, Mike Dunlap was paid $148,000 to play a schedule that included the Johnson & Wales Wildcats and the Holy Family Tigers.
It's not like he needed to teach driver's ed on weekends.
A few months later, after brief flirtations with coaching vacancies at Colorado, New Mexico and Denver U., Dunlap's reputation was such that he left the Metropolitan State Roadrunners to accept employment with the cross-town Denver Nuggets.
"This was a little bit out of the blue,'' he told Denver reporters. "The NBA wasn't on my mind. My learning curve is going to be huge, but the opportunity to educate yourself again is second to none.''
The Nuggets gave Dunlap a raise to about $250,000 and an up-close seat in an incredibly deep assistant coaching classroom that includes former NBA head coach Doug Moe, Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley and two of Jerry Tarkanian's former lieutenants, Tim Grgurich and John Welch.
A few months later, Dunlap told Nuggets beat writers: "I'm certainly smitten with the NBA, the coaches and the players. As witnessed by this, I'm not in a rush to leave it.''
So why, after a brief two seasons on the Nuggets bench, is Dunlap leaving the NBA to become Lute Olson's chief of staff?
I'm guessing there are three primary reasons.
1. As the fifth assistant on an NBA staff, Dunlap's input is limited even though head coach George Karl told the Denver Post, "He's talented. … He's got insight; he's got feel. I'm sure he could coach in the NBA for the next 10 years somewhere."
In nine seasons at Metro State, including NCAA Division II national titles in 2000 and 2002, Dunlap worked in a basketball sweatshop and he liked it. He was coach, general manager, travel planner, budget keeper and father figure. He's the type of shoulder-to-the-wheel guy who, in addition to coaching and being a husband and a father of three children, once ran in a 100-mile road race.
He is used to making an impact. In the NBA, he was more of a daily consultant.
At Arizona, he will be so busy, so necessary, that he will surely feel better about himself.
2. Naturally, he'll be getting a raise. No way Arizona could have gotten him away from the NBA and into a risky Olson-nears-the-end scenario for much less than $300,000.
3. He is unafraid. The messy situation at Arizona — the now-routine process of Olson discarding former associates — apparently hasn't fazed Dunlap.
This is a guy whose first five years in coaching, at Loyola Marymount, might've chased most into a different business. LMU went 9-19, 3-24, 9-18, 12-15 and 11-16 when Dunlap sat next to soon-to-be-fired Ed Goorjian on the LMU bench.
What's more, in the mid-1990s, Dunlap took his young family to Australia to coach in what is essentially a low-level pro league. This is a man with enough faith in his skin to roll the dice. He should be in one of those "Survivor" episodes.
In a infrequent stroke of good fortune, Dunlap's soon-to-be-announced hiring is one of the few victories for the embattled Arizona basketball program dating to the 2005 Elite Eight.
Imagine that. Mike Dunlap of Fairbanks, Alaska, to the rescue.
But, of course, many of us suggested that the hiring of Kevin O'Neill would serve the same end.
If nothing else, Olson is hiring the opposite of O'Neill, which is the way it usually works in the hiring/firing business. Jim Livengood did just that when he went from Dick Tomey to John Mackovic, and look where that got Arizona's football program.
On paper, however, the acquisition of Dunlap is to be applauded.
On Wednesday, assistant coach Josh Pastner said Dunlap has a reputation as a defensive coach, a smart guy who "gives you the impression he should be in science or medicine.''
At Arizona, Dunlap will indeed be in the healing business.
If it's possible, the UA has lost ground since its final game, against West Virginia. There are no regular pickup games at McKale as there have been for the last 20 springs. No one is charting Nic Wise's weight on a daily (or weekly) basis, as O'Neill smartly did. Are those whose presence on an alarmingly slim roster for 2008-09, such as Zane Johnson, shooting 500 jump shots a day? Or any?
And with the possibility of Pastner's departure, will there by any coach in town to accompany Seattle prep whiz Abdul Gaddy on his official recruiting visit this week?
Perhaps Gaddy will proceed with a self-guided tour and leave a handwritten note for Olson.
"Dear Coach O, Loved the place. Sorry I missed you guys. See you in Seattle when you play the Huskies in 2010."
So welcome to UA hoops, Mr. Dunlap. Your presence is urgently needed.