Former Lobos head football coach Joe Lee Dunn passed away on Tuesday, Oct. 26 at the age of 75. Dunn was battling Alzheimer’s disease and passed away in his sleep at his home in Ohio.

A defensive mastermind, Dunn served as head coach at the University of New Mexico from 1983-86 after three seasons as an assistant coach and eight seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Dunn then went on to a storied career as a defensive coordinator at several college programs.

Dunn is widely recognized as the credited inventor of the attacking 3-3-5 scheme, also known as the spread defense, used commonly by high school and college programs such as the University of Michigan, Texas Christian University and Brigham Young University.

Dunn stepped in to lead as a head coach at the University of Mississippi for the 1994 season. About a decade later, his transformation of the University of Memphis into a Top 25 college defensive program nation-wide from 2003-05 stands among his greatest accomplishments.

He was a finalist for the Broyles Award, which recognizes the top assistant coach in college football, in 1999 for rehabilitating Mississippi State University into the top defensive team in the country.

Before entering coaching, Dunn was a Little All-American at UTC, where he played defensive back from 1965-67 and set records for punt and kickoff returns. He also led UTC in rushing yards in 1965. In 1992, Dunn was inducted into the UTC Hall of Fame. 

Derek Jones, a former player of Dunn’s and currently an associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator at Texas Tech University, tweeted a remembrance of Dunn after his passing.

“It was truly an honor to play for one of the best defensive coordinators college football has ever seen,” Jones tweeted. “Coach Joe Lee Dunn demanded that you play hard, and if you weren’t mentally and physically tough, you couldn’t play for him. His mentality helped to mold many men. R.I.P. Coach.”

Matthew Salcido is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @baggyeyedguy