There we sat courtside at an Islanders’ men’s basketball game. My new friend’s name was Richard. He had driven from Wisconsin with his wife Mary to watch their oldest son Mark. No, Mark wasn’t playing; he was one of the assistant coaches of the Islanders’ men’s basketball team. They had been making trips south for many years. On this night, Mark Dannhoff, “Coach D,” would help lead the Islanders to another victory, one of twenty that they would win that season. Mark, the first of three boys, was born on September, 7, 1967. His two younger brothers are named Darren and Steve. While in high school, Mark also played shortstop, catcher and second base on the baseball team. “I wanted to play professional baseball until I got hit in the face,” said Mark. His childhood heroes included Walter Payton, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Michael Jordan. “Back then, the game was still all about team,” said Dannhoff. Mark started and starred for La-Crosse Central High School basketball team at the guard position. He was one of the major contributors to leading the team to the state championships, only to lose in the semi-finals. He continued playing basketball at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and lettered as a freshman until an ankle injury ended his career, prior to his sophomore season.
Mark was never a big fan of professional basketball and preferred college from the beginning. He is a mild-mannered, smart guy with a Master’s degree, yet he finds himself using phrases like “pick and roll,” “ball screens,” “posting up” and “baseline defense.” Very few of us find the job that we fit in the best. “Coaching basketball for life is all I ever want to do,” said Dannhoff. Mark wants to be a head coach again, and he should be. He became an assistant at his alma mater (Wisconsin-La Crosse) at age 20; and two years later, he was hired as the head coach of Northland Community College. “I took the job as head coach,” said Mark, “because my college coach said to me, ‘One day you’re going to want to be a head coach and they’re going to say, but you’ve never called a timeout.’” His task, rebuild the program. “There were no scholarships available, so I had to give everyone a tryout,” said Mark. “I was learning on the job. I wish I knew then what I know now.” Not only did he turn the program into a winner, but they won their conference championship in his fourth year.
The long story, short is that Mark Dannhoff has coached 26 years for many different Division I programs all across the South: from Georgia State, Mercer, Tulane, University of New Orleans, and Pan American, Mark has coached more than 46 future professional basketball players along with two NBA players. You may remember Linton Johnson who played with the San Antonio Spurs and the New Jersey Nets. I’m sure Mark will be given the opportunity to be a Division I head coach one day. There have been many fine things said about Mark by some of the best coaches in the country: Roy Williams, “Wimp” Sanderson, Tony Bennett and Bo Ryan, to name a few.
Two years ago, Mark Dannhoff, under the leadership of Head Coach Willis Wilson, helped guide the Islanders to their first-ever post-season win against Northern Colorado in the Collegeinsider.com Tournament (CIT). Last year, the team participated in their second consecutive CIT where they beat Florida Gulf Coast, but then lost at home to Kent State. “We should compete for a Southland Conference Championship this year,” said Coach Dannhoff. “I think you will see more balanced scoring and a better example of sharing the basketball.” I asked coach what was his favorite coaching philosophy? “You’re only good if someone else says you’re good,” he said. Coach D is not a collector and has only one autographed item: a picture of Michael Jordan hitting the winning shot against Georgetown in the NCAA Finals. The person Mark would most like to meet, if it were possible, is the departed John Wooden.
We spoke a lot about recruiting. “The hardest part is the time spent in doing the job right and how to convince a kid to go to a school where he fits in the best. Everybody can’t play at Duke, Kentucky or Wisconsin,” said Coach Dannhoff.
During his down time, you can find Mark hanging out near the ocean. He loves the water, fishing, jogging and playing golf. When he has something heavy on his mind he returns to a safe place, where he feels the most comfortable, shooting baskets in the gym. Mark Dannhoff has been a good friend. Not only do we share our enjoyment for the game of college basketball, but he has always taken his time to honor me with his presence at weekly lunches and during my book-signing events. He recently spoke at a potluck dinner held at my church, Island Presbyterian, here on the Island.
To find out more about Coach Mark Dannhoff’s basketball teachings and philosophies, check out his website at coachdallaccess.com. Go Islanders!