Making sense of the shakeup atop Denver’s athletic department

Photo courtesy the University of Denver

In case you missed the news, University of Denver Vice Chancellor for Athletics and Recreation Peg Bradley-Doppes announced in her 14th annual Divisional Address this week some changes at the top of the athletic department. She announced that Ron Grahame, former DU hockey goalie and long time DU administrator would take over the role of the day-to-day athletic director, effective immediately. Bradley-Doppes also announced that she plans to retire next June 30, after the end of the academic and athletic year. She will remain in her current position for 2017-18, but with a focus on more long-term projects and fundraising.

This announcement shocked and blindsided some loyal fans of the Crimson and Gold. After all, Bradley-Doppes ushered in a new era of success never before seen at University and Buchtel. Thanks to her leadership and acumen for hiring the best coaches (luring Bill Tierney away from the east coast, anyone?), the Pioneers have reached heights even Denver’s most loyal fans never thought possible. Since she took the helm in 2006, she has led the Pioneers to nine NCAA Championships including the hockey program’s emotional run to its eighth title just a few months ago, 97 conference titles, and 69 coach of the year honors.

But beyond the impressive numbers, and they are impressive, she has guided DU from a niche “hockey school” to a full-fledged national athletics power across the program. From skiing to lacrosse to soccer to volleyball and of course to hockey, there are but a few programs at DU that aren’t competing for the national spotlight every year. This is a far cry from the DU of even just a decade ago and fans of the Crimson & Gold have Bradley-Doppes to thank for that.

Given the unprecedented success of the past decade-plus, it’s understandable to feel at least a bit of sadness knowing that this will be the final year that Bradley-Doppes will lead the Pioneers. Her name will forever be synonymous with a kind of “coming of age” for Denver. She put DU on the map in collegiate athletics and saying goodbye to someone that pivotal and important is never easy.

But as sad and difficult as it is to see change like this at a successful program, there is absolutely no reason to be concerned about its direction in the short or long term. On paper, it may seem like Ron Grahame’s promotion is a stopgap between Bradley-Doppes and her eventual successor, but this is just not the case. There aren’t many people out there who have more passion for the Pioneers than Grahame.

Grahame has more than 30 years of experience at DU. From leading the Pioneers to the 1973 WCHA title in his senior season between the pipes to helping oversee the program’s move to Division I across all sports in 1998, Grahame is the epitome of what it means to be a Pioneer. There is absolutely no doubt that for this year and beyond as needed, he’ll do an incredible job building on Bradley-Doppes’ foundation and he’ll continue to help make DU a national force to be reckoned with.

He’s not just a great choice to fill this role this year, but really Grahame was the only choice to fill this role. He has the unique combination of passion for the program and the administrative acuity to make 2017-18 another year for the record books. Administrators come and go at every program, each looking to do what’s best for their own careers, but Grahame has stayed with the Pioneers throughout his career. He has guided and learned from the best of the best and will undoubtedly perform with flying colors this year.

Seeing such an incredible and deserving man earn a prestigious honor he’s been working for throughout his career is just icing on the beautiful Crimson and Gold cake. No, it won’t be easy to watch the Pioneers take the field and the ice knowing Peg Bradley-Doppes is on her way out, but just knowing Ron Grahame is at the helm will appease even the most skeptical among Denver fans.

2017-18 is shaping up to edge 2016-17 as the greatest year in Denver history. This shakeup at the top of the athletic department doesn’t change that. If anything, it makes it even more likely. Enjoy this year, Pios. You can be sure that DU will send its greatest AD in history out in style.

2 thoughts on “Making sense of the shakeup atop Denver’s athletic department”

  1. This is a great article, Nick – it captures most of my own sentiments, particularly around Peg’s massive contribution to DU Athletics in moving us from a hockey school with a ski team to the constituently the best athletic department in the country without football. We simply cannot thank her enough for her incredible performance in building the program to a level that very few thought possible.

    The one aspect that I am not sure about is what Ron Grahame’s long term future will be. There is no question that he will do a great job as AD – he’s always been excellent at everything he does, and his status as a “hockey guy” will no doubt comfort those DU fans who want to make sure hockey retains its primacy at DU. That said, the fact that Chancellor Chopp is now going to conduct a national search for a replacement Vice-Chancellor for Athletics and Recreation to replace Peg, does suggest that Grahame’s tenure may not be a long one, but more of a victory lap for his many years of DU excellence and contribution. That new vice chancellor hire will likely want to really run the show and not be a figurehead, after all…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very sad to see Peg go. Her work at DU has been incredible. I don’t know the ins and outs of what AD’s do to develop success, except for hiring the best coaches and making sure that the coaches get the support that they need. But whatever those X factors are, she must be accomplishing them. DU not only has the best athletic program in Colorado, but probably the whole Rocky Mountain region. Not bad for a relatively small private school. Glad to see Grahame get his time in the sun…a great reward for his devotion to DU. Doesn’t seem like he would replace Peg permanently, but we’ll see. Seems that if he was going to be AD (or whatever ridiculous name DU gives it), it would have happened by now.

    Not to quibble, but you mention 9 national championships since 2006–hockey, lacrosse….then did the ski team win seven national titles in the last 11 years?


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