For close to two decades, Brett Dunten has been a constant on the sidelines for the Union boys basketball program.
Now, after spending close to half his life coaching the Bobcats, he’s stepping away from his post.
Dunten is resigning from coaching at Union after 17 years, the last 15 as the Bobcats head coach.
The reason for stepping away centers around one element — family.
“I don’t want to blink and (see that) my kids have grown up,” said Dunten, who has two daughters, ages 3 and 1.
Dunten said maintaining a full-time job teaching at RiverBend OYA and then coaching during the winter hasn’t allowed for much time with his family.
“I want to watch my own kids grow. I just want to be a family guy instead of coaching basketball,” he said.
Dunten steps away from a post he’s held since he was 20 years old. He took over as the head coach at the start of the 2002-03 season after two years as an assistant coach under Alex Steenstra, and then James Frietag.
Dunten said there were the obvious early nerves leading a program and coaching players who were just a couple years younger than he was.
“It was very difficult transitioning to only being out of high school three years and dealing with (teenage) boys,” he said. “I just tried to set the foundation. It was a challenge, (but) once you got your older leadership involved and got traction, it flowed hand in hand. It took time building good relationships with the school and the youth and the parents. You knew it would pay off sooner or later.”
Dunten built a program that struggled mightily early in his tenure into one that was consistently in the playoff hunt.
The Bobcats went just 2-21 in his first season.
By his fifth year, the program had made a complete turnaround. Union went 21-5 in the 2006-07 season, won its first league title in 50 years and first district tournament in 57 years, according to Dunten. That team went on a 16-game winning streak, but saw it’s run end just short of a trip to the state tournament with a home loss to St. Mary’s, the Bobcats only loss at home during the season.
It was the start of a run of consistency. Union went on to have seven winning campaigns in his last 11 years, including the last four years, when the Bobcats won a combined 64 games.
Dunten even spent two years pulling double duty, coaching both the boys and girls teams during the 07-08 and 08-09 season.
That became really tricky at the end of the 2009 season, when he had to coach the boys team in a road playoff game at Western Mennonite on a Friday, then drive back to coach the girls team in a home playoff game against Nestucca that Saturday.
Imbler head coach Tony Haddock, a good friend of Dunten, has been on the opposite end of several battles through the years, as both an assistant and as the Panthers’ head coach.
“He had some good teams. He had some good talent come in there,” Haddock said. “By and large, he got maximum effort (out of his players) and was able to get the most out of what he had. His talented kids always performed. And he got the kids who weren’t quite as good to find a role and embrace it.”
Haddock said he saw several Union players take on Dunten’s passionate attitude and what he exuberated from the sidelines.
“To get that little extra out of them he portrayed that intensity, excitement and enthusiasm,” Haddock said, noting, however, that it wasn’t a facade, but is just Dunten’s personality. “By and large, they all bought in.”
Part of why Dunten coached with the fire he did was evidence to the players that he was involved.
“I’ve seen coaches who kind of sit back and watch. This day and age, kids feed off of you getting in the game,” he said. “They see that you care. Having the excitement in the gym with fans and getting everyone involved, the kids feed off of that.”
Dunten was also big on making sure the players walked away more prepared for the real world after high school, always emphasizing work ethic and being a good teammate.
“Regardless of what we do in life, we have to work with someone as a team member,” he said. “Overall, I hope that they move on to learn to be a good teammate. You can’t pick your boss or who you work with.
“If you have a (strong) work ethic and desire — that’s what we teach these guys. It’s about stepping up in life.”
While it’s over for now, Dunten isn’t hanging up the whistle for good.
“I’m going to give it a couple years. Once the kids get old enough, they’ll want to get more involved and are able-footed. They enjoy being involved,” he said. “I’ll definitely get back into it in a few years when the opportunity presents itself.”