Stanley Dunbar surveyed the Westerly High football field. The ground was frozen and covered in snow. Later that frigid February day, Dunbar would hold his first practice as the head coach of the Westerly Bulldogs.
“I remember showing up to Westerly earlier in the day and walking around the field. I really had to make a decision. Am I going to cancel practice today and reschedule or are we going out there and practice? For me, coming into a new situation I needed to set the tempo and let the guys know who I am and how I approach things.. that it doesn’t matter what the circumstance is, I’m going to try to make it happen,” said Dunbar. He certainly wasn’t going to let the harsh New England winter be his biggest challenge of the season. The decision was easy. That afternoon cleats marked up the fresh snow as he held his first practice.
I knew I forgot something! pic.twitter.com/X4VVcwwaFE
— WPS Bulldogs (@WPSBulldogs) February 22, 2021
“To be honest the kids were excited to be out there,” said Dunbar. “They wanted to practice. They hadn’t played organized football since November of 2019. They were happy to be out there and ready to go.” Dunbar’s always been ready to go. At 30 he is also one the youngest head football coaches in Rhode Island.
He is also the first African American head coach at Westerly High. None of that matters to Dunbar. “I was probably the first black head coach at Coventry, too,” said Dunbar. “And I would probably be the first black head coach at the majority of the schools in the state. When I am coaching football I’m not thinking about that. I obviously understand that I’m helping pave the way for others coming after me. When you are a minority you feel like you have to be good at what you do. I always want to be good at what I do. That is pressure I put on myself. I’m a competitor. I strive to be the best I can be in everything I do.” Dunbar said he learned that from his mom. His parents immigrated to the United States from Liberia, settling in Rhode Island. But his dad died when Dunbar, a first generation American, was just a toddler; long before he ever threw a touchdown pass. He and his older sisters were raised in Providence’s west end by his hardworking single mom. “My mom worked really hard to provide for my family,” said Dunbar. “She was able to put me in private schools because of the sacrifices she made. She wanted to put me in the best possible situation. Obviously, we didn’t have everything, and she didn’t have all the answers, but one thing I can say is, when I look back now, my mom did the best she could with me. “It’s what I try to do in life,” he said. “I know there are people out there who are smarter, more talented and have more skills than I do, but I just try to continue to work hard and strive to be the best.”
He has always striven to be the best. A fierce, hard-nosed competitor Dunbar starred at St. Raphael where he was an All-State quarterback and, he led Saints to a 13-0 record and a D-1 State Championship. He went on to become an All-Conference Defensive Back at Dean College where he helped the Bulldogs win back to back conference championships. He eventually earned a scholarship to URI where he was a two year starting cornerback. When his playing days were over, he headed to the sidelines and served as the assistant coach in several programs before landing his first head coaching job a few years ago at Coventry High. The team was 0-11 when Dunbar took over. In his first year, he turned the Division II program around and was named Coach of the Year. But there is a dark cloud that continues to loom over athletic programs. On more than one occasion, the Coventry school committee has proposed to cut athletics due to budget constraints. With constant uncertainty, it became increasingly challenging for Dunbar to build a successful program. He was drawn to Westerly, a competitive program filled with rich tradition and support by the entire town.
ABOUT THAT TIME! 😤 pic.twitter.com/Up3sVutafp
— Stanley Dunbar (@CoachDunbar_) February 21, 2021
“Coach (Duane) Maranda built a strong foundation,” he said of the former Westerly head coach who now stands by Dunbar’s side as an assistant. “I am looking to continue to build off of that and take it to the next level. For advice, Dunbar leans to Brown assistant and LA Rams Scout Willie Edwards, the former Moses Brown coach. “Willie has really helped me navigate the coaching career,” said Dunbar. “I look at what he has accomplished and that motivates me to be my best.” “Stanley’s gonna do great things at Westerly,” said Edwards. “I’m so impressed by his ability to teach the game…his ability to reach kids, relate to them and help them reach their potential … it’s incredible to watch him work.“ Dunbar is always working. He never has an off-season. In addition to coaching the Bulldogs, he runs Breakthrough Football Academy, a program designed to develop young players.
Congrats Gavin! Couldn’t be prouder of you man. Watching you develop as a leader and football player has been a pleasure. Grateful I played a small part! Your best days are ahead of you! #BeGreat https://t.co/6AOYUjOJnS
— Stanley Dunbar (@CoachDunbar_) November 26, 2020
He knows what it takes to win and is now passing on his experience and success on the next generation. Breakthrough Elite, a team filled with area high school players, captured the Midwest Championship in Michigan last spring. Dunbar’s team turned heads as Breakthrough entered as the No. 12 seed in the tournament and upset the No. 1 seed Adidas Elite and then went on to win the championship. For now though, his efforts are solely focused on his new team at Westerly. The Bulldogs have appeared in 10 Super Bowls and have won seven titles. The last, however, came two decades ago. His first season will be played in winter in the midst of a pandemic. There isn’t much time to prepare for the shortened season. Regardless, Dunbar has set the bar high. “I want to contend for a championship. That’s the goal. Isn’t that what we are out here for?” asked Dunbar.