UTM women's hoop pioneer Lin Dunn will coach in WNBA Finals
UTM Athletic Communications
Dunn, a 1969 graduate of UT Martin, has become widely known as one of the most successful collegiate coaches of all-time, before making the jump to the professional ranks in 1996. As a professional head coach she served as the inaugural head coach of the ABL’s Portland Power before moving on to lead the WNBA Seattle Storm and eventually to her present post with the Fever.
What many do not realize is that even though Dunn has never scored an official point in the record books at UT Martin, she is highly regarded as the driving force that allowed women’s basketball to be played at the university.
Dunn was an energetic, curly-haired high school basketball star from nearby Dresden, who just couldn’t seem to understand why members of her sex were allowed to play basketball in high school, but not in college — why they could play tennis and badminton, but not her beloved basketball.
It was the late 1960s, a time of turbulence and change across the nation and on campus at UT Martin, and Dunn was starting a revolution of her own. What Dunn thought, at the time, was just a dead-end conversation wound up leading to the establishment of one of the first college women’s basketball teams in the state of Tennessee.
In the years before Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibited sex-based discrimination in “any education program or activity,” women were not permitted to participate in college athletics, and in some states were even kept from playing sports in middle or high school. Biological reasons were used to excuse the ban: women’s bodies were far too fragile for strenuous exercise, young women could become seriously injured playing sports, or worse — exercise could make them sterile.
It was the archaic code that Dunn, and every other young woman of the era who enjoyed and excelled at athletics, suffered under. But Dunn kept on her crusade and in the fall of 1969 — a few months after she graduated but three years before Title IX and well before most other schools in Tennessee, even in the country, established athletic programs for women — UT Martin had its first women’s basketball team.
Though she never had the chance to play college basketball herself, Dunn’s determination and passion for the sport helped open the door for countless female athletes who would come behind her, even the eventual winningest basketball coach of all-time, Pat Head Summitt.
After Dunn graduated from UT Martin in 1969, she received a master’s degree in physical education from The University of Tennessee then began her storied coaching career. Dunn became the first-ever women’s basketball coach at Austin Peay in 1970 and guided that program through its first five years of existence.
She is perhaps best known as the architect of the Purdue University women’s basketball program, guiding the Boilermakers for nine seasons (1988-96) and collecting three Big Ten conference titles. She led the Old Gold-and-Black to seven NCAA Tournaments, four Sweet Sixteen appearances and a trip to the Final Four in 1994. In nine years at Purdue, she earned a 206-68 (.752) record and catapulted the school among the elite women’s basketball programs in the country. She is still the program’s winningest coach.
Dunn coached and recruited three Kodak All-Americans, three Big Ten Players of the Year and two Big Ten Athletes of the Year. Future WNBA stars that emerged from her tenure at Purdue were Summer Erb, Ukari Figgs, Stacey Lovelace, Michelle VanGorp and former Fever star Stephanie White.
Since her collegiate coaching career began at Austin Peay in 1970, she put together a remarkable 25-year record that includes a .635 career winning percentage at four schools (447-257). She left three of those schools – Purdue, Miami and Austin Peay – as the winningest coach in program history.
On the national level, she served on USA Basketball staffs for the 1992 Olympics and 1990 gold medal-winning World Championship and Goodwill Games teams. She was head coach of the 1995 bronze medal-winning USA Jones Cup team and also served for eight years on the USA Basketball Team selection committee.
Prior to arriving in West Lafayette, she coached at the University of Miami (Fla.), from 1979-87. She posted a 149-119 (.556) record through eight seasons and was the first coach to award a scholarship to a women’s basketball player. One of the last players she recruited, Frances Savage, was a Kodak All-American in 1992. She was named the Florida Coach of the Year in 1980-81.
Dunn moved to the professional ranks beginning in 1996, when she was named the head coach of the American Basketball League's (ABL) Portland Power in mid-season. One year later, she guided the Power from a worst-to-first run, posting a 27-17 record and a Western Conference championship, earning ABL Coach of the Year honors. Dunn also helped build the franchise to the league's highest marketing revenue and the second-highest attendance, and Portland was in first place in the ABL at 9-4 when the league ceased operations in December of 1998.
But Dunn's pro career continued in the Northwest, as she was named the first coach and General Manager of the WNBA expansion Seattle Storm in 2000. Dunn was part of the organization when it drafted the 2002 NCAA Player of the Year Sue Bird and eventual WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson, and she guided the Storm to their first-ever WNBA playoff appearance in 2002. That same season, Dunn finished second in the WNBA Coach of the Year balloting following the 17-15 season. As the head coach of the Storm, she posted her 500th career victory against Indiana, a team that would coincidentally be her next career coaching stop the following season.
Dunn moved back and joined the staff at Indiana in 2003, serving as a scout for former coach Nell Fortner. She was formally added to the staff as an assistant coach in 2004, and spent four years on the bench as an assistant with on-court responsibilities for a Fever defense that allowed the fewest points in the WNBA during both the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
Dunn was named the fourth head coach in Fever history on Dec. 12, 2007, and guided the team to the WNBA Eastern Conference Semifinals in her first season, where Indiana fell 2-1 in a three-game series against the defending two-time champion Detroit Shock, finishing with an 18-19 overall record.
Dunn now has over 525 career victories when combining her college and professional coaching experience and will use all of that experience as she tries to add a WNBA Championship to her resume.
The best-of-five WNBA finals series begins Tuesday in Phoenix at 8 p.m. Game two will take place Thursday at 8 p.m. in Phoenix before the series switches to Indiana for games three and four. Game three will tip at 3 p.m., Sunday while game four, if necessary, will start at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 7.
If the series needs a fifth game, it will take place at 8 p.m., Oct. 9 in Phoenix. All games will be broadcast on ESPN2.