Casey Dunn, head baseball coach at Samford University in Birmingham, comes from a baseball rich background.
If you know baseball in Alabama, you know his father, Sammy—the most decorated high school coach in the state and, arguably, in the nation. Coach Sammy Dunn led his Vestavia Hills High School Rebels to 9 state championships in the 1990s and 2000s to go along with a national title in 1998. So, it wasn’t far fetched to believe that his son Casey might want to follow in his footsteps.
Casey, an All-American catcher at Auburn, got his coaching career started at Spain Park High School after a stint in pro baseball. Dunn started the program at Spain Park and immediately built the program into a powerhouse. Following three years at Spain Park, Dunn joined the college ranks, first, taking an assistant coaching position at his alma mater in 2004 then making the move to Samford as the youngest Division I head coach in the country in August that same year.
In 14 years as the Bulldog’s head man, Dunn has led the team to a 30-plus win season in 10 of the last 12 years. Since his arrival in 2004, Samford has produced 22 players selected in the MLB Draft. Dunn’s teams have consistently finished among the top teams in home runs, including a nation-best 85 homeruns in 2015. Samford’s offensive prowess and team success have garnered him recognition as “one of the top rising head coaches” (Perfect Game) and the second ranked top college head coach under 40 (Baseball America). Ask Dunn and anyone around the program and he will attribute that success to his staff and, of course, his players. However, what Casey Dunn has accomplished on the field pales in comparison to his impact off the field—beyond wins and losses, awards, and championships. Recently, we had the opportunity to catch up with the coach to discuss his life in baseball, his program, and what his time in athletics has taught him.
Q: Can you first tell our readers and coaches what it was that got you into coaching and how this journey started for you?
A: I grew up with a father that was a high school coach. I was able to see the impact he made on his players. My love for the game of baseball combined with the opportunity to work with young men is what drew me to coaching.
Q: Samford Baseball: to what do you attribute the maintained success of your program?
A: We have been very fortunate to have quality student athletes in our program. Also, there has been a lot of stability in our staff through the years.
Q: There’s no denying that coaches know their game, X’s and O’s, mechanics, strategy, how to teach the game. These days, every team, especially at your level has talented players. What is it that separates the most successful teams when the talent is evenly distributed?
A: The two keys to success are being able to compete each day over the course of a long season and also the ability to perform under pressure. Every team at our level has the talent to win when everything is perfect, but great teams perform under all circumstances.
Q: What do you look for in a player beyond their physical skill and ability? Can you explain why those things are so important?
A: At Samford, off the field makeup is important. First, we have to identify players that appreciate the spiritual side of Samford. Second, they must be a good student in order to succeed on campus. The last thing we want as a staff is to recruit someone that is not going to be a problem off the field.
Q: Is there one word you can give our readers that describes the culture of Samford Baseball?
A: That’s tough. The first word that pops in my head is “Pride.” Over our time at Samford, I have really seen an increase in our current and past players being proud of being a Samford Bulldog!
Q: What have you learned about your life or yourself that you can attribute to your time in athletics?
A: Work ethic and people skills. You can’t get away with a lazy work ethic and survive at this level. Also, you are constantly interacting with people. From recruiting to coaching to fundraising you are always trying to build a better relationship.
Q: Your team went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic this past year? Can you share a little bit about that experience? Also, what kind of positive effect do you think that had on your team?
A: Without question the best thing that has taken place in my 14 years at Samford. Our team was able to grow together while serving and spreading the Gospel of Christ.
Q: Finally, what advice do you have for young coaches out there? What is your message for people wanting to get into this industry?
A: The hardest thing to do in our profession is to get started. My advice would be to start young before you develop financial responsibilities that could limit your ability to take a job or move.
Take a look at Samford’s offseason mission trip to the Dominican Republic: