Former Payson High School football coach Dan Dunn, now the head coach and athletic director at Mesa Community College, has been named the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 1 coach of the year.
Dunn was chosen last week in a voting of Western States Football League coaches.
Dunn coached at Payson High School from 1992 to 1995 and led the Longhorns to two state playoff appearances.
This season, Dunn led a Thunderbird team that went from 2-7 last season to 8-2 overall, 6-2 in the WSFL.
The T-Bird also won the rights to host the Valley of the Sun Bowl and will host Fort Scott, Kansas Community College Dec. 2 at MCC's Riggs stadium.
The T-Birds enter the postseason ranked eighth in the NJCAA standings.
Dunn, who has a reputation for his modesty, downplayed his accomplishment.
"Great kids make great coaches," he said "I just try to turn 'em loose and not screw 'em up."
An aspect of the MCC program Dunn is most proud of is the number of players on the T-bird roster from small-town Arizona.
"I actively go after them," he said.
Among the towns represented on this year's team are Mingus, Winslow, Chino Valley, Ray, Sahuarita, Coolidge, Nogales and Payson.
Former Longhorn two-way star Kevin Allen is a starting lineman on the team.
"He's doing a good job for us," Dunn said.
In addition to Dunn earning coach of the year honors, quarterback Dax Crum was named co-offensive player of the year in the WSFL. Six other members of the Mesa team earned NJCAA All-Region 1 honors.
The early years
After playing for Frank Kush at Arizona State University in the early 1960s, Dunn began his coaching career in Northern Arizona reservations schools.
In the early 1970s, he moved to Gilbert High, where he spent 10 years winning 100 games and a trio of state titles.
After leaving Gilbert, he was an assistant at MCC before taking over the coaching reins of the Longhorn football program.
After leaving the Rim Country, he worked an assistant to his close friend, Jim Jones, at Mesa Red Mountain, where the two led the Mountain Lions to two state championships.
In 2003, he agreed to return to MCC as head coach and AD.
Dunn continues to be a frequent visitor to the Rim Country and owns a summer and weekend cabin south of Payson.