Favorite NW Philly youth-sports coaches: Ed Dunn, MLK Cougars football

 Ed Dunn's first season as head coach of the MLK High Cougars football team ended with a Thanksgiving Day win. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

Ed Dunn's first season as head coach of the MLK High Cougars football team ended with a Thanksgiving Day win. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

The first time I’d heard of Ed Dunn was a text message I received in April, in the midst of NewsWorks‘ ongoing coverage of Germantown High School’s impending closure.

The tipster shared news that Dunn, a 27-year-old math teacher and assistant coach of the GHS Bears, had been tapped to lead the Martin Luther King High Cougars football team in 2013 and beyond.

In this insular world of Northwest Philadelphia high-school sports, this was a big deal.

What he said

Shortly thereafter, I spoke to Dunn about the challenges involved in taking over a team with very little history of success, at a time that people worried that merging GHS and MLK could reignite decades-old neighborhood beefs.

That night, he said something that would stick with me while watching his Cougars start the season 0-2 before embarking on a winning streak turned them into the first MLK team to win a Public League football title. Ever.

“My vision is to use football as an educational vehicle to reach these kids. The carrot,” he said. “Every kid wants to play football, but not every kid wants to do what it takes to get good grades.

“We’ll hold them accountable in the classroom as we would on the football field. If they handle their responsibilities on the field and in the classroom, we’ll do our best to get them ready for the opportunity to play on the next level.”

What that meant

Oh, did I mention that Cougars preseason camp started before Dunn knew whether he’d have a teaching job at MLK?

Yet there he was for two-a-days.

That he took the job on spec, a West Oak Lane resident offering a lot of himself up without knowing whether he’d permanently be one of the School District of Philadelphia’s layoff recipients?

And there he was on the opening day of school, mentioning off-the-cuff that yeah, he just found out he’d have a math-teacher job at MLK.

Dunn taking the job despite all that says a lot about his character, and all of it is commendable.

More than football

Also commendable? At the end of a team practice the week before the Thanksgiving game against powerhouse Imhotep, and just days after the Cougars got slaughtered by Archbishop Wood in the state playoffs, the message from Dunn and assistant coaches like Kelly Cottle and Kevin Norris to the team wasn’t about X’s and O’s, or W’s and L’s.

It was about A’s through F’s.

And SATs.

And tutoring for anyone who needs it.

And bringing your report cards to the coaching staff, because if you don’t, play in the Legacy Bowl you won’t.

That April conversation wasn’t lip service.

It was a mission statement that helped, with guidance and direction from a committed coaching staff, land his star quarterback at the University of Delaware.

It’s also brought the likes of Bloomsburg, Shippensburg, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and West Chester through MLK’s Stenton Avenue doors to talk to other players on the team, according to Cottle.

Rave reviews

And, it was a mission statement that MLK High Principal William Wade said was executed particularly well to the point that not a single player was ever declared academically ineligible to play.

“We required them to do a daily student hall and weekly, sign-in attendance sheets determined whether they were qualified to play in that week’s game,” Wade said. “Dunn would not compromise his integrity and let someone play who didn’t live up to those expectations.

“We had a goal-setting meeting and he was so focused that I didn’t have to do any steering after that. It’s second nature for Coach Dunn to just care about these kids.”

Cottle, the assistant coach who also came over from GHS, has high expectations for Dunn, in whom he sees greatness.

“At GHS, I saw a passionate, hard-working guy who cares. We share the same vision. He’s still got a lot to learn, but I predict he’ll end up being one of the most successful coaches in Public League history,” said Cottle, who is steeped in recruiting and academic-qualification intricacies.

“If you’re a senior, and you have good grades, and you’re playing, you will have an opportunity to go to college and play at the next level,” he continued, noting that the commitment extends beyond the coaching staff into the school itself. “It’s all working out, man. This is going to be something that no one’s ever seen before in the Public League.”

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