New Mexico decided to keep it in the family and announced former player and assistant coach Ben Dunbar as its new men’s tennis head coach.
Dunbar played tennis for the Lobos from 2008-2012 and served as the assistant coach for the past two seasons, joining the staff when his predecessor, Bart Scott, took over the program.
He also played for Scott during his time as a collegiate athlete and said the former coach had quite an impact on him. In a phone interview, Dunbar said he was sad to see him leave because he had played such a big role in his life, but was also excited for his Scott’s opportunity.
Dunbar said Scott was part of a strong mentorship group that helped him through the process and showed him a lot of support along the way - something he said he appreciated a lot.
Being named the newest Lobo head coach is just the most recent life-changing event for Dunbar. UNM's newest head coach was married on May 29 and is set to go on his honeymoon later in the week.
“I’m obviously very excited, it’s kind of surreal,” Dunbar said. “It’s been an unbelievable two weeks for me, really.”
A University release stated Dunbar becomes the fifth consecutive head coach who previously played for the University, continuing a streak of 33 straight years with a former Lobo at the helm. He said he is excited to continue that legacy.
Dunbar said the family feel is what originally sold him on the program and it is part of what makes New Mexico special. In fact, he said many former Lobo teammates were also part of his wedding celebration.
The current players also seem to exhibit that same togetherness and Dunbar said that is something he promotes to potential future players.
Dunbar said he loves the day-to-day grind that comes with coaching, but also enjoys being around the student athletes.
“Being around 18 to 22-year-olds is honestly the most fun way to make a living,” he said. “I’m just excited to get started.”
Dunbar said he realizes that expectations are high, and the program’s history dictates that the team should be successful every year. He said obviously the immediate goals will include winning the conference tournament and finding a way to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
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Although the team won the regular season title in 2015, Dunbar said the team hasn’t won the conference tournament since 2009 - a title he helped bring home as a player.
He said he believes they have a special group coming back and can’t wait for them to get back to Albuquerque so they can start working toward those goals.
Continuity can be one of the most important ingredients in the success of a sports program. Obviously some change is inevitable, but Dunbar’s hire means the players will likely hear a similar message and pick up where they left off.
Thanks to experience, Dunbar already has a rapport with the current team, which will be returning virtually its entire roster as there were no seniors on the team last year.
One key loss includes Augustus Ge, who recently transferred to Arizona. Dunbar said the move will allow Ge to be closer to his family, which is something he is happy about.
Ge had a sound season last year, emerging as a leader and was on the heels of a double-digit winning streak before a foot injury shelved him for the rest of the season.
However, the team also has several other dynamic players that can rely on their past experiences to get off to a hot start and new recruits that could make an immediate impact.
Coaching one’s alma mater is often a dream scenario for many former athletes. The direct link to the program arguably means there is a stronger emotional investment to see the team succeed.
For 33 years, David Gaetz, Tim Cass, Alan Dils and Scott have shown a passion for the university while building a strong foundation. Dunbar, who seems to fit that mold as well, has already put in plenty of work and success could be on the horizon.
Robert Maler is a sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers cross country, tennis, and track and field. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @robert_maler.