In a rare move, a sitting head coach left the Bobcats to help Villanova with a period of rapid change in hoops. PIC: Eric Hartline/USA Today
"Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat" circulated on Twitter on Thursday afternoon.
Baker Dunleavy wasn't retiring, nor was he taking another head coaching role, nor was he joining Kyle Neptune on the bench, or replacing him, or somehow running it back with Jay Wright.
But Dunleavy is, in fact, coming back to Villanova - the program that launched his fruitful career in basketball.
Baker Dunleavy, who spent the last six years as the head coach of the Quinnipiac Bobcats in Connecticut, announced on Thursday that he stepped down and will join Villanova as the General Manager of Basketball. Athletic Director Mark Jackson announced the creation of the position & his tab of Dunleavy to the post earlier Thursday.
Dunleavy will be tasked with guiding Villanova through a massive period of change in college hoops. His job description includes NIL education & building opportunities, navigating the transfer portal, assisting with brand development & marketing of Villanova student-athletes, and fundraising.
"The dramatic changes in college basketball over the past several years have brought new challenges and forced us to collectively think differently," said Mark Jackson in a Villanova-sanctioned statement on Thursday. "I believe the creation of the GM role, particularly with Baker at the helm, positions Villanova well competitively for the future. It will allow Villanova to be even more forward-thinking and bring an innovative and seasoned perspective to the ever-evolving college basketball landscape. Most of all, Baker is a wonderful person and a great Villanovan. We're thrilled to welcome him, Chrissi and their four daughters back to Villanova."
While casual hoops fans may not know Baker, they'll surely remember two members of his family as the most direct links.
Mike Dunleavy Sr., Baker's father, played ten years in the NBA, and went on to coach the Lakers, Bucks, Trail Blazers, and Clippers over the span of 20 seasons. He then became the Tulane head coach for 3 seasons (2016-19), where he came short of his aspirations to turn the Green Wave around; they went 24-69 during his time at the helm. Baker's brother, Mike Jr., not only won a national championship at Duke in 2001, but spent many years as a three-point specialist in the NBA ranks. He's now the VP of Basketball Operations at the Golden State Warriors.
But for Baker, it was a different path. He committed to Villanova for Jay Wright's second season at the helm of the Wildcats (2002-03), and only played an average of less than 3 minutes per game during his three seasons in which he made an appearance.
A young Baker Dunleavy played four seasons for Jay Wright at Villanova (2002-2006). PIC: Associated Press
Baker, who prioritized his business degree, graduated in 2006 and moved to New York City, where he garnered some years of institutional sales at both Merrill Lynch and Bank of America.
He realized that it wasn't for him; he simply yearned for the game he played in college.
"It's not quite the same as being involved in the game (of basketball)," Baker said when he came back to Villanova in 2010 as the Director of Basketball Operations. "There was no decision for me. I missed this. I missed Villanova. It was important for me to get back in it...to learn under somebody that I trusted (Jay Wright) to teach me how to do it the right way. I was just waiting on that opportunity.”
And sure enough, Dunleavy earned the trust of Wright to join his assistant coaching bench in 2012, and became his right-hand man as the Associate Head Coach in 2013. Wright, of course, was widely attributed for engineering the resurgence of Villanova through the mid-2010's, but Dunleavy's recruiting & development prowess - and love for the school - played a major role, if you ask Wright.
Dunleavy was tabbed as Quinnipiac's head coach in 2017. He went 86-93 at the helm of the Bobcats in the midst of a reestablished Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference which saw Iona hoist the conference championship trophy four times, Saint Peter's make a freak run at the title in 2022, and a 2020 cancellation due to Covid. Dunleavy's Bobcats are fresh off a 20-12 campaign: their best under his leadership.
"We couldn't be more excited for our family to return to Villanova for this incredible new opportunity," Dunleavy said in a statement.. "As college athletics have evolved in the past few years, they have brought along changes away from the court that impact every program. I cannot wait to begin working with our student-athletes, coaches, and the entire Nova Nation to build upon the tradition and brand of Villanova Men's and Women's Basketball."
Some people are simply just meant for a team...a school...a program. And today, one of Villanova's prodigal sons proudly returns to Philadelphia.