High School Sports

Olympia football coaching great Robert ‘Bob’ Dunn remembered for intensity and passion

Former Olympia High football coach Robert “Bob” Dunn, left, gets a hug from Capital High football coach Wayne Sortun during Sortun’s retirement party.
Former Olympia High football coach Robert “Bob” Dunn, left, gets a hug from Capital High football coach Wayne Sortun during Sortun’s retirement party. The Olympian file, 2007

Robert “Bob” Dunn had a reach that extended far beyond Olympia High School’s football field.

For 22 seasons as the program’s head coach, Dunn — who coached the Bears to their only playoff-era state title in 1984 — took pride in shaping his players. He focused on fundamentals. He spent weekends and the offseason meticulously studying film.

“He saw coaching football as a means of helping young men become successful, contributing adults,” said Jim O’Sullivan, Dunn’s longtime friend and former assistant coach at Olympia.

The revered Olympia coach, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, died in his sleep on the evening of Aug. 5 at Garden Courte Memory Care in Olympia. He was 82.

“Bob saw each new year as an opportunity for every player to exhibit their skills and talents,” O’Sullivan said. “To Bob, each player was an individual with his own unique style of contributing to the team. Bob himself was a man of intensity, whose objective was to meet every challenge head on.”

Dunn compiled a 155-93 record during his 30-year high school coaching career at Rubidoux (Riverside, California), Anacortes and Olympia. His 136-76 record with the Bears included a 28-game regular season winning streak and three consecutive league championships between 1980-1982.

He was lifted onto his players’ shoulders after the Bears beat West Valley (Spokane), 28-14, in the Class 3A state championship game at the Kingdome in 1984.

“It was so exciting,” said Dunn’s wife, Joyce, who never missed a game during his career. “The kids played well. It was really a great game. I loved it. It was fun to go out on the field and get a big hug.”

Bob Dunn’s preparation and passion was a catalyst for Olympia’s success, said Jeff Markoff, who was a two-way lineman that season.

“We would oftentimes be on the practice field well into the dark,” Markoff said. “He had a script of plays that he wanted us to be able to run. We would run a play 10 times until we ran it right. We could not go on to the next play until, in his mind, it was perfect and where he wanted it.”

Film sessions could last from two to three hours after Dunn had spent time breaking down each play by position, Markoff said. Steve Davis, one of Dunn’s players and an assistant coach at Olympia, said back then, game film was rushed to the bus station Friday nights. It was shipped overnight, developed in Seattle, and returned the next morning.

By Monday at Olympia, where Dunn taught business education, each player had a numerical grade.

“He was really ahead of his time with all of the film study,” Davis said. “I don’t know anybody else back then that graded every player, every play, like he did.”

Many of Dunn’s players, including five who currently work on Olympia’s football staff, went on to coach athletics at various levels. When former Bears quarterback Tim Hume decided to start coaching youth football, his first phone call was to Dunn.

“That, to me, is his legacy — impact for a lifetime,” said Hume, who led Olympia to an undefeated regular-season record in 1982.

“When you’re in high school, you think it’s just affecting you at that time. As years and decades go on, those memories aren’t just memories. They’ve made a positive impact on your life.”

Hume was one of many who idolized the program Dunn built.

“That’s why I got into coaching, was to give back to the program that gave us so much,” Davis said.

Football was a lifelong sport for Dunn. The Fort Vancouver product was a two-time all-state football selection before he was recruited by the University of Washington. He played as a running back and quarterback for the Huskies from 1953-1957 before beginning his coaching career.

Bob and Joyce moved to Olympia 50 years ago, leaving only briefly after Bob retired to travel the country in their black, Chevrolet van. The license plate was tagged, “OLYBALL.”

Even when they traveled, their hearts were “still with Olympia,” Joyce said.

Their son, Rob, was Olympia’s starting quarterback in 1980 and 1981. Their daughter, Jennifer, was a cheerleader. Bob and Joyce spent Thursday nights during his tenure at Olympia folding jerseys and socks, and lining them up by number in the back of the van.

“We did that for years, the two of us, in the living room,” Joyce said. “We folded it all and said our prayers over each person. That was our ritual.”

On Friday mornings, Bob Dunn riled up the student body during assemblies. On Friday nights, he inspired players from the sidelines.

“He thoroughly enjoyed working with youth and passing on his love of football,” said Glenn Waugh, who has been a neighbor of the Dunn’s since 1986.

Though both of Waugh’s sons played football at Olympia after Dunn retired in 1989, Bob still offered coaching tips when he saw the boys in the yard.

“Bob Dunn was a (gosh darn) champion,” John Henry Waugh said. “He was my grandfather. He was a good guy — the best guy. Many people respected him, I respect him. … He was a real influence on a lot of people.

“There’s a lot of people still in the community that played under Coach Dunn,” Glenn Waugh said. “He’s got a pretty long reach.”

Dunn is survived by his wife, Joyce; daughter, Jennifer; and son, Rob. A memorial service will be held at noon on Aug. 26 at Saint Michael Catholic Church. Donations can be made in Bob’s honor to the church, Garden Courte Memory Care and Olympia High School.

Lauren Smith: 360-754-5473, @smithlm12