For two years, Lin Dunn was a happily retired Hall of Famer.
The college coaching legend and 2012 WNBA champion stepped away from the Indiana Fever following the 2014 season and quickly moved into consulting. Returning to the sideline wasn’t even a consideration.
Matthew Mitchell asked anyway.
“At first I was like, ‘What?’ ” Dunn said.
Dunn served as consultant for Mitchell during the 2015-16 season, applying more than 40 decades of coaching experience to the advice she gave. As a tumultuous offseason for the Kentucky women’s basketball program played out through coach and player turnover, she continued be a close confidant for Mitchell.
The two began to explore the possibility of continuing their consulting arrangement into next season, but before they got too far Mitchell offered her the role of assistant coach. If it had been anyone else asking, Dunn likely would have passed.
“The more we talked, the more appealing it became to me,” Dunn said. “And I wouldn’t have done it just anywhere. It would have to be somebody like Matthew that I knew and trusted, respected.”
Add in a group of players Dunn had grown attached to over the course of the previous season and she was sold. On Tuesday, Dunn agreed to join Kyra Elzy and Niya Butts to complete an impressive coaching staff.
“I could not be more excited to get the chance to work every day with one of my greatest mentors and dearest friends in Lin Dunn,” Mitchell said in the release announcing the news. “When you think about those that helped paved the way for women’s sports, Lin Dunn is one of those names that comes to your mind. She has helped me become the coach and person that I am today and I am forever grateful. With our staff now complete, it’s time for us to turn the page and take this program to new heights.”
Neither Mitchell nor Dunn have any doubt UK will reach those new heights, and the first step is facing the negativity surrounding the program head on. Mitchell has done exactly that.
“First of all, I have an enormous amount of respect for his transparency,” Dunn said. “I thought his 40- or 45-minute press conference that he did where talked about everything that was going on—there’s nothing hidden. There’s no smoking gun or anything like that. He accepted responsibility, holds himself accountable for anything that’s gone awry. I respect that.”
Though UK is moving forward, the upcoming season figures to bring some trying moments, particularly with a thin roster. That what makes a presence like Dunn’s so valuable. In addition to her time in the WNBA, Dunn spent 25 years as a college head coach, most notably taking Purdue to seven NCAA Tournaments and its first Final Four in 1994.
“I don’t think anything takes the place of experience,” Dunn said. “Forty-four years, I’ve seen just about everything. So I think I can bring some of the experiences I’ve had as a great resource for him in some situations that he’s never dealt with, both college and pro.”
Dunn first met Mitchell at a camp run by Pat Summitt more than two decades ago. They’ve gotten to know each other well over the years, especially when Dunn consulted for Mickie DeMoss at UK while Mitchell was an assistant.
“I feel like he’s almost like a son,” Dunn said. “Not a grandson, but a son.”
The role reversal of Dunn now working for Mitchell isn’t lost on the two, so they discussed it ahead of time. Dunn has no doubt they’ll deal well with the change, citing her experience as an assistant in the WNBA and for Team USA.
“I know what it’s like to be an assistant and I know how to be a good assistant,” Dunn said. “I don’t think that’s going to be tough for me at all.”
It helps too that Dunn is on the same page as her new boss.
“Matthew and I have similar core values in how we see things,” Dunn said. “Tremendous work ethic, attention to detail, doing the right things, going to class, graduating, good people on the court and good people in the community. So I think it’s a good fit with he and I.”