Denver Women’s Basketball Surprise Hire

Photo: Courtesy of the Pueblo Chieftain

The Pueblo Chieftain is reporting in an article that DU women’s basketball would be hiring Jim Turgeon as the next head coach. A press conference has been scheduled for 11:00 am today in the Gottesfeld Room at the Ritchie Center to announce the hiring.

The Pioneers went 6-24 this past season and head coach Kerry Cremeans 5-year contract was not renewed. At the time, it was assumed by many that DU would bring in an experienced DI hire. That said, Turgeon had incredible success at the D2 level. 

The deal was struck Saturday night according to the newspaper. “The hardest phone calls I ever made were (Sunday) night to the players,” Turgeon said. “You wonder sometimes if you are making a difference. About 75 percent of the girls cried, so it made me feel like I might have done something right.”

In only two seasons at CSU-Pueblo ThunderWolves were an impressive 54 and 10. During his first season, his squad set a school record with 26 wins. They went on to win the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Shootout and advanced to the NCAA Division II national tournament. This past season, they had a 24 game winning streak, ended 28-4 and won the RMAC regular-season championship.

Turgeon came to Pueblo after eight years at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa where he was 191-65. His final season there, the Reivers finished with a 31-4 campaign that saw them finish fifth at the NJCAA national tournament and set a school record for wins in a season.

The hire comes as somewhat of a surprise as Turgeon was plucked from the Division 2 ranks. When Cremeans contract was not renewed,  DU’s vice chancellor for athletics and recreation Peg Bradley-Doppes said, “We are looking for an experienced, dynamic head coach who understands the Front Range region as well as our culture, vision and the challenges that come along with coaching at the University of Denver.”

Turgeon’s lack of D1 experience is the real surprise here – not in coaching years (10) but in high-level competition. But, based on Peg Bradley-Doppes ability to identify talent this looks like an interesting hire by trying to catch a coach on the rise who is affordable, talented, a cultural fit, and brings the prospect of success based on his prior coaching results. As one of DU’s only struggling sports, DU women’s basketball performance is even more glaring. Add Bradley-Doppes impatience with mediocrity and any newcomer to DU women’s basketball is going to face more immediate internal pressure to turn the ship around than any external forces.

On the plus side, Turgeon likely knows the Colorado basketball scene and is well aware of the hurdles of turning around the DU women’s basketball program and making it relevant. And, he does have successful head coaching experience – but not nearly as much as many of his Summit League peers.

One key question that remains open – Is there an actual appetite for women’s basketball at DU and the Denver market? With falling attendance for DU women’s basketball, does the front range care about women’s hoops (often a requirement for any D1 conference and a necessary sport to meet Title IV requirements)? Can DU women’s basketball attract local attention and garner the notice of students when only a handful of teams in the country garner large support for women’s basketball? Add all the other distractions in the Denver market, also faced by DU men’s basketball, and this job was always going to be difficult one to fill. Finally, other Summit League schools have fewer distractions and less star-studded winter athletic teams (nary an American Hero among the bunch) and focus nearly all their energy during the winter on men’s and women’s basketball.

Can Turgeon deliver success on the court and in some small measure earn notice off it that are the two key questions that leave Turgeon facing a mountain of challenges in his first D1 job.

Turgeon’s brother, Mark, is former Kansas Basketball player and the current Maryland basketball head coach.