Coach Kirby Dean has successfully changed the basketball culture at Eastern Mennonite University, guiding the Runnin' Royals to new heights in his 11 seasons at his alma mater. EMU has become a national name in the past couple of years with Dean registering back-to-back 22-plus-win seasons, including a trip to the Elite Eight of the NCAA D-III National Championships.
Since the beginning of the 2008-09 season, the EMU men’s basketball program has had five of the top six seasons in school history including the top three of all time. Before Dean took over, the program had only seven winning seasons in 37 years, with a 16-win season representing the highpoint. Over the past six seasons, the Runnin Royals have averaged 17.7 wins, including 25-win and 22-win seasons.
The 2013-14 season started slowly as the team replaced four starters from the previous year, but ended with the men as one of the hottest teams in D-III. The Runnin Royals won their last six games, including two in the ODAC Tournament, before running out of steam in the ODAC Semifinals in Salem. The team was led to a 17-11 season by departing senior RJ Sims (All-ODAC Third Team) as well as the emergence of Virginia Union transfer Marcel Crump (All-ODAC Second Team) and junior center David Falk (All-ODAC First Team).
Falk made national headlines with his mid-season appearance on ESPN’s top plays with two thunderous dunks vs. Randolph College which had him as high as No. 4 on SportsCenter's Top Plays, one spot behind Jabari Parker of Duke! With Falk and Crump returning as well as emerging stars James Williams and Ryan Yates, the expectations for 2014-15 are already beginning to percolate.
During the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, the up-tempo Runnin Royals were among national leaders in scoring offense, scoring margin and turnover margin. The men have averaged 87.0 and 87.8 points per game, giving their huge crowds a lot to cheer about while they racked up a 47-10 combined record.
In 2009-10, the men not only advanced to their first-ever national tournament, they also hosted games on the opening weekend in front of packed crowds of more than 1600 fans. The Royals finished 14-2 in the ultra-competitive Old Dominion Athletic Conference that year, claiming just their second regular season title in program history.
Dean was named ODAC Coach of the Year after the 2009-10 season as well as the National Assosication of Basketball Coaches South Region Coach of the Year. He also mentored four men on the 2009-10 All-ODAC teams, including Todd Phillips who was named First Team All-American by D3hoops.com. In his senior season, Phillips was named ODAC Player of the Year, becoming just the third EMU men’s basketball player to earn the award.
Dean played four years at EMU from 1988 to 1992. He was named best defensive player in 1989, 1990, and 1992. In 1992, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Health and Physical Education and a minor in Coaching. Following graduation he spent two years as an assistant coach with the Royals.
In 1994, Dean, who grew up in nearby Penn Laird, Va., moved down Interstate 81 to the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. He spent eight years from 1994 to 2002 as an assistant coach at the Division I institution. In 1995, the team went 18-10 overall and 10-4 in the Southern Conference. It was the most wins by a VMI squad since the 1970s. From 1994 to 1999, VMI went 40-33 in conference games, the most successful five-year run at the military school since the 1970s.
The Valley called Dean back closer to home in 2002 when he spent a year as the high school boys' basketball coach at Waynesboro High School and taught middle school. After one season, EMU came calling and Kirby Dean was named Head Coach of Men's Basketball.
In addition to his undergraduate degree, Dean also holds a Master of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Athletic Administration from James Madison University. He currently lives in Harrisonburg with his wife, Regina, who is an elementary teacher in the Augusta County Public School District, and daughter, Maycee.
Dean has two bible verses that speak to him both in his life as EMU basketball coach and in his personal life. "For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord…plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11) "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)
Through many years of coaching basketball, Dean most enjoys the relations that he develops with players. He greatly appreciates that many of his players from years ago at VMI still call or e-mail to keep in touch.