DU’s New Head Hockey Coach David Carle – Photo Credit: CBS
The University of Denver’s hiring of David Carle as its ninth hockey coach in nearly 70 years of program history is a hire that has elements of excitement, safety and risk baked -in, and the fact that it took three weeks for DU to announce it means that the hire was no slam dunk.
Carle does have a lot going for him. He has 10 years of seasoning as assistant coach with DU and Green Bay (USHL) under his belt, and can be seen as representing logical continuity of the great program-building that’s happened under former head coaches George Gwozdecky and Jim Montgomery, with the Pios making the NCAA tournament every year that Carle has been behind the bench. As one DU hockey alumnus texted me after the news, “I love this hire. [Carle’s] got the goods.”
Besides his experience, Carle is known as a strong recruiter and teacher. He received a ringing endorsement from successful outgoing head coach Jim Montgomery. Monty likely specifically prepared Carle for this takeover over the last two years, as NHL teams zeroed in on hiring Montgomery. In addition, Carle is a Pioneer alumnus with his heart and soul in the Denver program, and has a strong family association with DU, as his older brother, Matt, won DU’s first Hobey Baker Award in 2006.
Certainly, all schools take pride in hiring one of their own as a head coach. Carle is only the second DU alumnus to ever be DU’s head hockey coach, with Marshall Johnston as the first. Johnston was hired in the late 1970s, and he didn’t last five years in the position.
Carle also represents what is likely to be a continuation of Denver’s recent up-tempo, crowd-pleasing, relentless puck pursuit playing style, given Carle’s role in developing it with Montgomery, and given the players that Carle recruited specifically to play that style. It also means that current assistants Tavis MacMillan and Joe Howe are likely to stay on as two of Carle’s assistants, preserving additional continuity and recruiting class comfort. Carle will need to add either another assistant coach or operations director to his staff in the coming weeks.
As a bonus for DU, the University likely saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in hiring Carle, as someone with no head coaching experience simply cannot command the kind of financial package that an experienced head coach could command, allowing DU to spread its resources to other aspects of its sports programs.
Those who are skeptical of the hire, however, have reason to be that way, too.
At only age 28, Carle will be the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I and, in fact, he’s never been a head coach at any level. Indeed, DU explored hiring a number of experienced and successful college head coaches before deciding on Carle, and it will be seen as a bold, yet risky move in the hockey world. For a top-five program to go this young is a risk, indeed.
Personally, I don’t care that much about his age. He has four more years of coaching experience than other coaches his own age, as he started coaching while a freshman at DU. George Gwozdecky clearly saw something special in Carle, and honored Carle’s scholarship after a heart condition ended Carle’s promising playing career just before he had a chance to suit up for Denver. Gwozdecky and made him a student assistant coach for his four-year undergraduate career, and he’s been coaching ever since.
DU has had other successful head coaches who were still in their 20s when hired. Two who spring to my mind are current head soccer coach Jamie Franks, and Hockey coach Neil Celley. Franks took DU to a NCAA College Cup Soccer (final four) in 2016 before he turned 30. Celley was hired as DU’s second hockey coach at the age of 24 back in 1951, and led DU to a .646 winning percentage in his five-season coaching career before giving way to legendary coach Murray Armstrong in 1956. Young coaches can relate well to current student-athletes, have a long-term upside if successful, and most importantly, can be hired for less money than more experienced coaches.
The three real risk elements that concern me around Carle’s hire are:
1. He has not been a head coach before, and DU is a top-five program. Ask any assistant coach who becomes a head coach to tell you about the learning curve, and they’ll tell you it’s a steep one. No longer just a helper, he now becomes the boss. Furthermore, with the complexity of today’s program management, the hockey portion of the job is possibly the easy part. Now Carle must step up to new pressures — running the budgets, academics, donors, politics, media management, marketing and other non-hockey aspects of the program. He must also manage people, and be accountable for the success or failure of one of the most prestigious programs in the sport. He’ll certainly have help, but it won’t be easy. Some DU fans may not like this hire, as they would have expected a program like DU to land a more experienced, high profile coach, and they may believe that DU went the cheap route, rather than the best route. Only time will tell if they are right.
2. The lack of an NHL connection. One of Jim Montgomery’s big plusses in recruiting was being able to tell hot prospective players that as a former NHL player himself, he knew what it would take to help prospective NHL players make it to the ‘show’. Carle is certainly a great recruiter himself, but it may be that much of his effectiveness was connected to selling Monty’s NHL credentials. Carle does not have that arrow in his quiver now. My hope is that he can hire an assistant coach who has an NHL playing history, as that association matters when selling DU hockey — especially in Canada, where DU needs to continue to be strong in recruiting.
3. The perception that DU couldn’t hire a more experienced coach. Let’s face it, if Carle was really the top choice, DU could have hired him instantly. The facts are that DU wanted to see who else was out there. Personally, I wanted DU to use this vacancy opportunity to evaluate every candidate, and I applaud DU for doing its due diligence. But there are those who will see DU as not being willing to commit the resources necessary to hire a winning, experienced head coach when they had the chance to do it. The risk to the DU brand is significant if Carle fails, and in Denver’s fickle, oversaturated market, this is certainly a riskier hire than finding an experienced head coach.
I wish David Carle every possible success as he takes the reins of our beloved program.
But I would be lying to you if I said I see only clear sailing ahead. He will take on a young DU program with about 20 freshman and sophomores next season, and fans here are used to watching top 10 hockey teams.
Carle has a big job ahead of him, and I hope he’s up to it.
Puck Swami is the Internet moniker of a long-time DU fan and alumnus. He shares his views here periodically at LetsGoDU.