Many alums have returned to coach their alma maters only to be met by failure.
But, there are success stories, too, of coaches who came home.
When the Pioneers face the University of Miami Redhawks at Magness Arena this upcoming weekend, they will be facing a Miami Brotherhood alum, Enrico Blasi, who was a student, player, and now coach of the rock-solid Miami hockey program.
His coaching career path mirrors Rodney Billups journey to leading the Denver men’s basketball bench.
Blasi is a native of Canada who earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education from the University of Miami (Ohio) while he played hockey for the Redhawks from 1990-1994. Coach Blasi led Miami to their first CCHA title in 1992-93 and first NCAA Tournament appearance that same season. His 123 career points are still tied for 25th on Miami’s all-time points list. During his playing career, the Redhawks won 71 games – combined with his current coaching career, he has won 422 games at Miami coming into this season.
Upon graduation, Blasi started his coaching career as the assistant coach for the Wexford Raiders junior team. Fans of the Pioneers know what happened next – Blasi came to Denver to work for former Miami coach and mentor George Gwozdecky. While in Denver, Blasi helped the Pioneers to two trips to the NCAA Tournament and three Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) upper-division finishes. During the 1998-99 season, Denver went 26-13-2 and captured their league-record 12th postseason playoff championship in the WCHA by defeating then top-ranked North Dakota, 4-3.
Blasi was only 27, when he returned to Oxford, Ohio 17 years ago and took the reins of the Miami program – six years younger than 33-year-old Rodney Billups. Blasi recently received a 10-year contract extension following the 2012-13 season that will keep him in Oxford through the 2022-23 season. In 2009, Miami made its first-ever Frozen Four and NCAA Championship Game appearance followed by a second trip to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2010. His philosophy is simple, “You will be judged by how you live your life, both in the community and on the ice.”
Rodney Billups is a Colorado native, graduating from Denver’s George Washington High School in 2001. He was a three-year standout at the University of Denver from 2002-05. He averaged 10.2 points, 6.4 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game during his 2004-05 senior campaign. In addition to leading the Sun Belt Conference in assists, he also ranked 17th nationally in that category. In 2004-05, the Pioneers won 20 games and a National Invitation Tournament berth.
After his collegiate days, he played professional basketball for ASK Riga in Latvia (2005-06), where he led the league in steals and assists. He also played one year in Finland (2006-07).
During Billups’ 6-year run as an assistant coach under Tad Boyle in Boulder, the Buffaloes enjoyed great success with 130 wins and five 20-win seasons. Like Blasi, Billups was a jack-of-all-trades for the Buffs basketball staff but built his reputation on recruiting. His popularity in Boulder was shown when players expressed sadness (and congratulations) when he left for the Pioneer head coaching job.
Billups calls himself a ‘players coach’ but can be tough when needed and he has surrounded himself with veteran assistant coaches. Said Billups when he took the reins of the Pioneer program, “My first priority will always be the student-athletes and their development in the classroom, on the basketball court and in the community as model citizens.”
The common thread is that they are high character people who demand personal responsibility and accountability from their players. Both head coaches took a break from their respective alma maters to work under successful coaches. Finally, both earned head coaching positions with programs that had early support from their administration and community.
The top-ranked Denver Pioneers hockey team faces off against the Miami Redhawks Friday night at 7:30 @ Magness Arena. Denver men’s hoops will be seeking their first win of the season at San Jose State Thursday night in San Jose, California @ 8:00 MT.