Photo: University of Denver
To the surprise of virtually no one, DU women’s basketball coach Kerry Cremeans, who was hired five years ago from Auburn University to take DU women’s basketball to the next level as head coach, “resigned” today after a five-year coaching record of just 42 wins and a staggering 109 losses. Her five year contract was not renewed, and while the school terms it a “resignation,” she was clearly pushed out the door.
You just can’t sugar coat it — .278 is a humiliating career winning percentage for a coach. This is the lowest career winning percentage in DU women’s basketball history of any coach who led the team for more than a single season in the 40+ years since the program began in 1974. And in a DU athletic department full of coaching stars and very high-performing programs, Cremeans is perhaps the only failed coaching hire in Peg Bradley Doppes’ tenure as DU’s athletic director, which began in 2005.
Cremeans’ Pioneers sputtered to a lowly 6-24 record this season despite having an experienced team comprised of her recruits. Moreover, Cremeans’ five-year DU tenure was a constant struggle to retain healthy players, retain assistant coaches and ultimately, a five-year failure to recruit enough good Division I level players.
Cremeans came to DU with some fanfare back in 2012. She had an impeccable basketball pedigree, including 10 NCAA appearances as an assistant coach, paying her dues at major programs such as Purdue, Florida, Kentucky and Auburn. Indeed, she was touted for her recruiting prowess, as the head recruiter under the legendary Nell Fortner at Purdue. But that kind of recruit never came to play for her at DU, and in college sports, coaches are only as good as the recruits that they can sign and develop.
Cremeans had also taken over a very respectable DU women’s program at that time. Indeed, the Pios had finished second in the West Division of the Sun Belt conference in each of former DU coach Erik Johnson’s four seasons from 2008-2012, when Johnson left for Boston College, where he is still head coach of the Eagles.
Personally, I’m sad it didn’t work out for “Coach Kerry.” If you’ve ever met her, you would want her to succeed. She always radiated with positive presence and enthusiasm for DU and she worked very hard as a coach. Her players performed well in the classroom and were always great in the community. Certainly, she had more than her share of injured veteran players which held her program back, but she also had a revolving door of assistant coaches, which didn’t help continuity, either. Team chemistry was also sometimes in short supply, as I can remember one of DU’s top senior leaders a few years ago, crying big tears in the concourse of Magness Arena, sharing that the seniors and coaches just could not get the younger players to gel with the older players.
In fact, almost every year of her DU coaching career got worse for Cremeans and her Pios. She started out with 14 wins and 17 losses in her first season in 2012-2013, and little did we know it would be her best year, as she would never see double digit wins again. Her next season, DU slipped to 9-23 in 2013-2014, but she generated a few moments of joy during the Pios’ shocking Summit League tourney run. In fact DU made that dud season ending a little more optimistic, as the sixth-seeded Pios upset three-seed Fort Wayne in the quarterfinals, and then in the semifinal game, DU upset two-seed IUPUI in overtime. Cremeans had led the Pioneers to the Summit League Championship Finals against South Dakota, but the Pios fell on wobbly legs to the Coyotes, after having to play three games in three days. Denver would eventually finish as Summit tournament runner-up, falling just one win shy of receiving a NCAA Tournament berth.
The following season, DU stumbled to a dreadful 8-23 record in 2014-2015, and just when we thought it it couldn’t get any worse, it actually did — with last season’s 5-win, 25-loss embarrassment, the worst season of her career. Many people expected Cremeans to be fired after that last awful season, but there were two decent reasons to let her finish out her five year contract this year. First, DU had just fired winning men’s hoops coach Joe Scott last year and had to buy him out of his contract, and there wasn’t much more buyout money lying around to buy out other fired basketball coaches. The second reason may have been that Cremeans had also just given birth to twins that year, which might have been seen by some as awkward from an employment standpoint, had DU just fired a new mother. This season’s poor 6-26 failure was just one more win than her career low of five last year, and even Kerry would have to agree that a .278 career coaching record just won’t cut it in D-I basketball as a head coach.
Why did such a hard-working, pedigreed coach fail at DU? I don’t profess to be a women’s basketball expert – only a DU fan with an opinion. But I’ve seen many coaches succeed here in many sports at DU, and here’s what I do know: The best ones win here because they know how to win recruits in the key recruiting areas locally, as well as recruiting well outside of Colorado. For example, Hockey coach Jim Montgomery gets top hockey players from primarily from Western Canada, the West Coast of the USA, Colorado, St. Louis, Minnesota and even Finland. Bill Tierney owns the three “C”s —Canada, California and Colorado for DU lacrosse (with others from Eastern hotbeds and other under recruited areas sprinkled in). DU women’s lacrosse has deep recruiting connections in Maryland, as well as here in Colorado.
In women’s basketball, Colorado is a pretty key recruiting ground nationally, but it seems to me that Cremeans never was able to get top level Colorado recruits to come here. In fact, only two Coloradoans were on her entire 15-person roster when she “resigned,” and only one of them was an all-state player in high school. It seems to me that the next coach will need to start winning recruiting battles here at home as a base in order to have a chance at building the program back to respectability.
Good luck to Kerry in her next adventure, and let’s hope Peg has some better luck hiring this time around. Go Pios!
Puck Swami is the Internet moniker of a longtime DU Fan and Alumnus. He contributes his views from time to time here at LetsGoDU.com