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Who is Dusty May? How former Gators assistant became Final Four coach for surprising Owls

Bob Knight disciple who took FAU job sight unseen now just 2 wins away from national championship
Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Dusty May cuts down net after Elite Eight victory in NCAA tournament, March 25, 2023
Posted at 3:54 PM, Mar 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-28 15:54:26-04

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Dusty May had never been a head coach before coming to Florida Atlantic University in 2018.

Now in his fifth season at the helm of the FAU men's basketball program, May has the Owls just two wins away from the school's first national championship in any sport.

Not too shabby for a guy who wanted to quit just hours after signing his contract with FAU.

May, who had a relationship with then-newly hired athletic director Brian White, signed with the Owls before ever seeing FAU's basketball facilities, he told

One of White's first signature moves was luring May away from the University of Florida, where he had spent the previous three seasons as an assistant under then-Gators head coach Mike White – the oldest brother of FAU's Brian White.

May was eager to become a head coach and believed in the elder White's vision for the program when he agreed to join the Owls, but he admitted being dismayed when he saw the disparity between FAU's facilities and his previous stop in Gainesville.

"I mean, I'd be lying if I told you that we showed him the arena before he signed the contract," White told "That came after."

FAU Owls head coach Dusty May claps during game against Middle Tennessee, Jan. 26, 2023
Florida Atlantic coach Dusty May applauds for his team during the second half against Middle Tennessee, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, in Boca Raton, Fla.

The 2,900-seat campus arena opened in 1984, originally as the home to the women's basketball team. Men's basketball became a tenant four years later, when the Owls began play as a Division II program.

It was a far cry from Florida's 10,500-seat Stephen C. O'Connell Center, where the Gators routinely ran their opponents off the court with record crowds and a boisterous student section dubbed the "Rowdy Reptiles."

Even after a $9 million renovation for the 2007-08 basketball season, a catchy nickname ("The Burrow") and a $7.5 million gift in November to rename the facility the Eleanor R. Baldwin Arena, FAU's home court pales in comparison to that of many Division I programs – not to mention, some South Florida high school gymnasiums.

There was also plenty of fan apathy for the program, which had endured seven consecutive losing seasons before May's arrival.

It's no wonder May had second thoughts.

Ultimately, it was his former boss and current boss' brother – Mike White, now the head coach at Georgia – who convinced him to stay.

"I would've left and went back to Gainesville after signing the contract if it wasn't for my relationship with Mike and his family," May told

Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Dusty May meets with team on court during practice before Sweet 16 game of NCAA tournament, March 22, 2023
Florida Atlantic head coach Dusty May meets with his team during practice before a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA tournament's East Region, Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in New York.

The 46-year-old Indiana University graduate never played college basketball, but he was a student manager for the Hoosiers under the legendary Bob Knight, who won three national championships as Indiana's coach and one as a player at Ohio State.

Upon graduating in 2000, May became an administrative assistant and video coordinator for the men's basketball team at the University of Southern California before returning to Indiana in the same capacity for the next three seasons.

May got his first full-time coaching job at Eastern Michigan during the 2005-06 season. From there it was on to stints at Murray State, UAB and Louisiana Tech, where he coached under Kerry Rupp and then Mike White, who retained May after Rupp was fired in 2011.

After two-time national champion Billy Donovan left Florida to coach in the NBA, the Gators turned to White, who brought May with him as his top assistant.

May helped lead the Gators to a 69-37 record during his time at Florida, all the while catching the attention of Brian White, who was hired by the University of Missouri as an athletic administrator the same year that Mike White and May arrived in Gainesville.

When FAU tapped Brian White to replace Pat Chun as its athletic director on March 3, 2018, White already knew he needed to make a change in leadership with the men's basketball team.

Chun had hired former NBA player and coach Michael Curry in 2014, but the Owls never won more than 12 games during Curry's tenure and finished in the bottom half of the Conference USA standings each of his four seasons in Boca Raton.

During his introductory news conference, White was candid that he believed the Owls could be competitive in basketball.

"I don't think that long-term there's a reason we can't win here and win at a high level of basketball," White said at the time. "I believe that."

Thirteen days into the job, White fired Curry, who had two years remaining on his contract. Six days later, White introduced May as the school's next coach.

Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Dusty May gestures in first half of second round of NCAA tournament, March 19, 2023
Florida Atlantic head coach Dusty May gestures in the first half of a second-round NCAA tournament game against Fairleigh Dickinson, Sunday, March 19, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio.

"Dusty was my No. 1 choice, and I am thrilled to have him lead our men's basketball program," White said. "This hire is a clear demonstration of the ambition we have four our basketball program, our athletic department and our university. Dusty will bring tremendous passion, determination and work ethic to this position. The future of the FAU men's basketball program is bright."

White's words have proven to be prophetic. In five seasons under May, the Owls have never had a losing season. That includes two seasons of postponements and cancellations caused by COVID-19.

May has already become the school's all-time wins leader. His 101 victories are 25 more than the next-best coach, Mike Jarvis, who went 76-112 in six seasons at FAU.

Dusty May: At A Glance

SeasonOverall RecordConference RecordPostseasonFinal Ranking
2022-2335-318-2NCAANo. 25

The Owls had just one winning season in the 11 years prior to May's arrival. That was during the 2010-11 season, when FAU was a member of the Sun Belt Conference. The Owls finished first in the East Division standings but failed to win the tournament title and missed out on the NCAA tournament, instead settling for a spot in the National Invitational Tournament.

Before this year's magical run through the NCAA tournament, the Owls had only made one prior appearance in the big dance. The Atlantic Sun Conference tournament champions earned a No. 15 seed and lost to second-seeded Alabama 86-78 in the first round.

Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Dusty May holds NCAA tournament trophy after beating Kansas State Wildcats in Elite Eight of NCAA tournament, March 25, 2023
Florida Atlantic head coach Dusty May holds up the championship trophy after Florida Atlantic defeated Kansas State 79-86 in an Elite Eight game in the NCAA tournament's East Region final, Saturday, March 25, 2023, in New York.

In fact, prior to the 2022-23 campaign, the Owls had never won a postseason game – losing to Miami in the first round of the 2011 NIT, Charleston Southern in the first round of the Postseason Tournament in 2019 and Northern Colorado in the first round of last year's College Basketball Invitational.

May's team quietly played quality basketball throughout this season without much fanfare or national attention. The Owls reeled off 20 consecutive victories and didn't even earn a spot in the Associated Press top 25 rankings until Feb. 13.

FAU's 35-3 record is the best in the nation. It includes tournament wins against Memphis, Fairleigh Dickinson, which knocked off No. 1 seed Purdue in the first round, Tennessee and Kansas State.

After the Owls beat Kansas State last weekend to earn a spot in the Final Four, college basketball reporter Andy Katz spoke with Mike White, who had high praise for his former assistant.

"The best hire in the history of college basketball and the best coaching job done in any single season ever, in my opinion, ever," he said.

White also credited his brother who hired May.

"Incredible hire," he said.