An open letter to Coach Johnny Dawkins: Is Stanford's success Duke's long-term gain?

Some thoughts on the Stanford head man now that the Sweet 16 dust has settled

Dear Coach Dawkins,

Vince Lombardi famously said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," but I don't think he ever envisioned just two wins changing the entire perception of a head coach.

All season long, many Stanford fans and basketball analysts have criticized you - myself included - for switching to a triangle offense and increasingly playing a zone defense. When your team failed to score for nine straight minutes against Arizona in January or gave up 112 points to BYU back in November, all of the criticisms seemed right on the money - and your departure from Stanford a mere formality.

Then, after two magical pairs of 40 minutes in St. Louis you became a genius - a basketball mastermind who installed an offense that put three big men on the court at once and stuck to a matchup zone that made scoring in the paint nearly impossible. You were praised for thwarting New Mexico and Kansas by relying on your team's size, by adhering to the same system that you've used all season.

Your coaching consistency is probably the biggest reason why so many fans have been surprised by Stanford's Sweet Sixteen run - the team hasn't done anything radically different on the court, but has nonetheless pulled off two monumental victories that have injected passion and enthusiasm back into the men's basketball program.

It speaks, I think, to what you preached from day one when you came to The Farm in 2008: a belief in the process of patiently building towards goals, of doing things the right way. Sure, the defense wasn't there the second game of the season against the Cougars and the offense definitely stagnated against the Wildcats, but your players have been committed to improving and the results came through when they needed to most.

Speaking of doing things the right way, you have - by all accounts - run a program beyond reproach, and Stanford should be very proud. In the era of John CalipariKelvin SampsonTommy Amaker and others, you have run a clean program and you certainly deserve this recent success.

Moreover, you have always shown a commitment to your players and to your school. I doubt very many college basketball coaches besides you meet with their school's undergraduate senate to discuss ways to get students to come to games. You also take time to chat with students like myself and - win or lose - you bring the same calm, polite demeanor into every press conference.

But the questions remain: Can you keep this thing going? Is this run just a fluke? Your team matched up very well against New Mexico and Kansas, but those wins were far from beautiful. While you did outcoach your counterparts down the stretch in each game, Dwight Powell is still picking up cheap fouls as if he were a freshman and watching your guys try to break a press looks like a junior high game. In short, there's still room for improvement - both before Thursday's matchup with Dayton and heading into the future.

The future. Yes, your work in this tournament run has been more than sufficient to save your job, but I don't think you or Stanford Athletics wants to live on the bubble every single season. With a solid recruiting class coming in next year - perhaps the best you've hauled in - we'll see if your program is program is really building off the "process" or if this tournament run was just a flash in the pan, fueled by favorable matchups and the determination of a team loaded with seniors.

Now, let's say that - as I hope - you are successful over the next few seasons, positioning the Cardinal for Pac-12 titles and perennial tournament runs. Where will that leave you and Stanford in the long run? Perhaps the most interesting reaction I heard after Stanford's win over Kansas was from a few Duke fans, who exuberantly celebrated that they had found the perfect successor to Mike Krzyzewski, your mentor, when he decides to hang it up in Durham.

If that situation were to arise - if you build Stanford into a national powerhouse before leaving for your alma mater, where you played and coached at such a high level - I couldn't blame you. But many Stanford fans would still feel like a patient girlfriend, who put up with your flaws only to be dumped in favor of the woman of your dreams once you did finally figure things out.

And that's the bind I find myself in right now, Coach Dawkins. I think you are the coach Stanford deserves and needs right now, but I can't help but think that any continued success will only amount to Duke's future gain. At the same time, I don't want to stay in the basketball purgatory that we've found ourselves in for the last five seasons.

Ultimately, I think it goes back to Vince Lombardi: "Winning...is the only thing." So I'm going to keep cheering as loud as I can and hope you and your team ride this wave of momentum all the way to Arlington and to more successful seasons. That would probably put us in bigger danger of losing you, but a couple of banners in the rafters of Maples would be a nice going-away present.

Anyway, that's enough thoughts about the future. I wish you and your team the best of luck in Memphis, and I'll be screaming for you the whole time.

We might have to part ways down the road, but it's All Right Now.

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