If it weren’t for Michael Jordan, Kevin Dustin might be still coaching Div. I basketball. Instead, for the past couple of decades he has been working behind the scenes as a university and high school administrator.
His latest job: This summer he took over as athletic director at Salt Lake Community College.
“I liked the idea of taking another shot at the college world,” he says. “And I wanted to be an athletic director. It was a career goal. And at the community college, sports still seem to be done for the right reasons. It’s not a huge business.”
There’s none of the unseemly pursuit of TV contracts and constantly sinking millions in athletic facilities and acting like professional basketball and football franchises. Mostly, community college athletics consists of athletes who are trying to stretch out their careers and/or earn a ticket to a university program.
“For a lot of them, this will be their last year of playing sports,” says Dustin, but in the next breath he is talking about all the players who have earned university athletic scholarships after playing for SLCC — most recently, Gary Payton II (Oregon State), Natalie Parsons (Rutgers) and Mercedes Riggs (Duke).
Dustin is replacing Norma Carr, if that’s possible. For 25 years she patiently built SLCC’s athletic program. When she began, the Bruins had one sport and were playing games at South High. When she left, the Bruins had five sports, facilities that rank among the nation’s best in the JC ranks and one of the nation’s most competitive programs, including the 2009 men’s basketball national championship and six national runner-up finishes — softball (2011-13), men’s basketball (2008) and volleyball (1999, 2004).
“It feels like I’m taking over the San Antonio Spurs," says Dustin. "My job is not to mess it up. This program has a national reputation. For the last few years it has had all five sports nationally ranked. It’s not unusual in a given year for all five sports to be ranked.”
Dustin grew up Garden City, Utah, on the west side of Bear Lake. He was one of eight kids and his father made a living by collecting junk — scrap metal, deer hides, antiques — and selling it: “He knew a market for everything,” says Dustin.
Dustin played multiple sports at North Rich High where his graduating class consisted of 12 students. After graduating from Utah State, he became a teacher and coach, first at Alta High and then Sky View.
Larry Eustachy, the Utah State head basketball coach, hired him as an assistant, largely to utilize his familiarity with Utah recruiting. What might have been a stepping stone to a college coaching career turned into the end of Dustin’s coaching career. He was on the staff for two years and then Eustachy left for Iowa State to replace Tim Floyd, who had moved to the Chicago Bulls to replace Phil Jackson, who had left the Bulls after Michael Jordan retired.
“Michael Jordan ruined my career,” Dustin says with a smile. “If he hadn’t retired and Phil Jackson had stayed with the Bulls and Tim Floyd had stayed at Iowa State, Larry would have stayed at USU and I might still be coaching. I had hoped to stay in college athletics a long time.”
For the next 16 years Dustin was an associate athletic director at Utah State. Five years ago he was hired by the Utah High School Activities Association — the governing body for Utah’s prep sports — as an associate director of baseball, basketball, football, golf and theater.
“It was a great situation there,” he says. “It took a lot to leave something as special as this. I could’ve stayed forever. They do good work there for the right reasons.”
At SLCC, Dustin inherits a program with a large and diverse student body that boasts 60,000 students spread over 14 campuses. Many of them are students who commute from home and have full-time jobs that require them to take classes in the evening to get an Associate of Arts degree or a certification. It doesn’t create much in the way of a school community, or interest in the school’s sports programs.
“One of our challenges is to increase attendance in all of our sports,” says Dustin. “We (community colleges) don’t draw the affinity that other schools do. But not everyone can afford Utah games or Jazz games. This is an affordable alternative for sports fans to see the stars of the future.”
Athletics at the community college level have more modest and realistic aspirations than their Div. I counterparts. They are viewed as an opportunity to get an advanced education and have one or two more years of playing sports at a higher level.
As Dustin puts it, “Our expectation is to compete on a national level in all the sports and have high retention and graduation rates.”
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org