Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. DeRick Dunnigan is in his first year as the Dacula High School athletic director.
New Dacula athletic director DeRick Dunnigan has been around Gwinnett sports for nearly his whole career, beginning with his time as a high school athlete at Norcross. He had two coaching stints at Duluth and has spent the past 20 coaching and teaching at Dacula.
In this installment of "Getting to Know ..." the AD and avid Florida State fan talks with staff writer Ben Beitzel about hiring a football coach to replace longtime head man Kevin Maloof, transitioning off the field to the office and the atmosphere in his home when Dacula plays Mill Creek, where his wife Laura is the athletic secretary.
BB: Let's get this out of the way. What's with the Florida State helmet and stuff in your office?
DD: When I first started coaching (at Dodge County), the first coach I worked for had played at Florida State and he had such a strong connection to the school that it was just normal to look up and see Florida State coaches around, coach (Bobby) Bowden around. When I was growing up I was always a Florida State fan and actually wanted to go to school there until my parents saw what the out-of-state tuition was and then it was like, "Find somewhere in state." (laughs). I always kept that Florida State loyalty you could say and as a position coach my first kid that I had sign, when I first started coaching, he signed with Florida State. I've always been a Florida State fan.
BB: You spent no more than four years at any stop in your career until you got to Dacula 20 years ago. You must really like it here.
DD: (laughs) I am back in the county. It's home. I got married since I have been here. My wife likes it here and Dacula is a great place. It's a great place. You've got great people to work with, you've got great kids. It's been enjoyable. When I first came here, we were, at that time, a Class A school and probably didn't have more than 350 kids, that time, in the whole school. You probably knew everybody. It was a family-type atmosphere and we still have that in the community. That has kind of been the big drawing point to keep me here, it's a family. The whole community is family-type atmosphere.
BB: That's unique about Dacula. In a county with pods of high schools this is one more attached to a city more than most.
DD: Exactly. When I was at Duluth it was that way and when I came here to me the drawing point it was still a small-town community with a big-city atmosphere I guess you could say with everything going on here.
BB: Why take over as athletic director?
DD: I have always wanted to be athletic director. During the last 10 years here with Kevin, I worked with him as assistant athletic director, unofficially because that position does not exist in Gwinnett County. Even when I was at Duluth the last two years there I was kind of assistant athletic director to Cecil Morris and kind of helped him out with other things. It was just something that I always wanted to do. I went back to school eight years ago and completed my master's in sports administration from the United States Sports Academy to get me ready for this position. So when the opportunity came along I was fortunate enough to get it.
BB: Then, with Kevin leaving, you had to make the biggest hire an AD around here gets to make, head football coach.
DD: With Kevin leaving it was definitely, having to make that decision in a hurry and Mr. (Principal Donnie) Nutt has been great with me and working with me. I took the position in November on an interim basis after Kevin left to get us through the rest of the school year.
BB: What was it like hiring a head football coach?
DD: It's a different hire. It was probably the first time in my career when I was actually involved in that process. You have a lot of great applicants that are out there. There were a lot of good applicants for this position because it is in a good region that is respected. People look at the quality of football in Gwinnett County and they know Gwinnett has great programs and so it was just phenomenal to sit down with Mr. Nutt and go through the resumes and decide what can this one bring to the table as opposed to this one. Interviewing the candidates. It was just fun, realistically, for me.
BB: What's the draw of being an athletic director?
DD: I think it's the administrative part. Being able to have your hands involved in everything and try to mold it and yet not be locked in to one specific program.
BB: What sports did you play?
DD: In high school I played basketball and tennis.
BB: Do you still play?
DD: No. There is not time.
BB: You met your wife here at Dacula, but she works at Mill Creek now. That's a fun little rivalry.
DD: Once a year or twice a year, or three times, I guess, we kind of have our house divided. I guess the two big times are during football and basketball seasons. It tends to lead to some interesting conversations at my house during that game week. It's been fun. The thing that's really unique that since Mill Creek, since it pulled from us, when it first opened, a lot of those kids that were over there I knew because they played here in a lot of different sports. A lot of the coaches were coaches that I'd struck up camaraderie with when they were here. And even now we are still close so when I'm here or if I go over there it's like family, still.
BB: That's a new rivalry, but it's got some juice.
DD: The fans here and the fans at Mill Creek both get really cranked up for that game. It's one that everyone looks forward to each year. We are hosting it this year, they come to our place. I am looking forward to it for the first time being the athletic director. It's my program this year.
BB: What sport was your favorite to coach?
DD: Oh, football.
BB: But you didn't play football.
DD: At that point in time, my parents had this idea, you'll get hurt. So I never really played high school football. They had no problem with me playing basketball but football they just didn't. When my brother came along, they let him play football.
BB: Well that's not fair.
DD: (laughs) Yeah.
BB: What style of football do you prefer?
DD: I am old school. I still believe in lining up and running the football. I don't know if that is because of the head coaches I have worked for, probably is. That was always their philosophy, we are going to run it at you first, we'll throw it at you second. I am still one of those that believes if you are going to win, you have to run the football. That is a kind of different philosophy. Now everybody wants to spread you all over the field, throw it 50 times a night. I can watch it, but it drives me crazy. I believe that if we can run it and control the line of scrimmage we are going to beat you because we can control what is going on.