Mike Dunbar, whose career as a successful collegiate football coach and offensive innovator was overshadowed by the lives he positively impacted, passed away Friday, Sept. 13, in his hometown of Dupont, Wash. He was 64.
Dunbar’s last stop in a 36-year career as a football coach was at Northern Illinois. He joined former NIU head coach Dave Doeren’s staff as offensive coordinator in February 2012, and was diagnosed with cancer shortly thereafter. He underwent an aggressive treatment while coaching through spring practices and preseason camp, but stepped down after the season opener versus Iowa to focus on his health.
He remained close with the Huskie program throughout the 2012 campaign, staying in touch with Doeren and current NIU head coach Rod Carey, who succeeded Dunbar as offensive coordinator. The season turned out to be NIU’s most successful ever as a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) program as the Huskies won 12 consecutive games, including the Mid-American Conference Championship, en route to earning a historic berth in the 2013 Discover Orange Bowl.
Carey, who was promoted to head coach in December on the same day NIU received its bid to the Orange Bowl, said Dunbar’s impact as a coach and as a person will not be forgotten.
“Even though Mike was only here for a short time, he had a profound effect on me both professionally and personally,” Carey said. “He’s one of those guys in the profession, that you can talk to anyone he ever worked with and you’ll never hear a bad word said about him. Personally, he was a great man of integrity who knew how to mold young people, young coaches and everyone in his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Linda, their children and the entire Dunbar family.”
Dunbar spent 12 years as a head coach and his innovations in 25-plus years as a play-caller put multiple programs at all levels of football on the map. He compiled a record of 83-24-1 as a head coach at Central Washington (NAIA) from 1987-91 and Northern Iowa from 1997-2000.
the head coach at Central Washington, Dunbar was named Columbia Football Association Coach of the Year and the Kodak Region I Coach of the Year three times. His Central Washington teams earned two No. 1 national rankings and in 1991, extended a regular-season win streak to 40 games, finishing 9-0. The Wildcats were also ranked among the NAIA Top 20 each year during his five-year stay.
His Northern Iowa teams went 29-15 and were ranked in the FCS Top 25 every year.
As offensive coordinator at Northwestern from 2002-06, Dunbar helped the Wildcats rank fourth in the country in total offense (500.3 ypg) in 2005. He tutored NU quarterback Brett Basanez, who set 30 Northwestern offensive records and ranks among the Big Ten’s all-time leaders in multiple categories.
During his stint as offensive coordinator at Toledo (1992-96), where he was also assistant head coach his final two seasons, the Rockets set 21 offensive school records and went 11-0-1 with a Las Vegas Bowl victory in 1995. UT posted a 36-18-2 record during his five seasons in Toledo.
Dunbar was offensive coordinator at the University of California when Cal shared the Pac-10 title while scoring a league-leading 32.8 points per game. He was the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Minnesota in 2007 and 2008, where the Gophers averaged more than 400 yards per game of total offense in 2007. He served as offensive coordinator at New Mexico State in 2010.