DU Assistant Coaches among COVID-19 Departures, Men’s Head Golf Coach Exits

Denver Athletics was instructed by the University of Denver administration to make significant cuts to its budget in the wake of COVID-19. In recent weeks, the Athletic Department’s web directory now shows that the Pioneers were likely forced to eliminate associate head coaching and/or assistant coaching positions in men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis and in the skiing program (Co-ed). This round of coaching cuts to DU’s small-roster sports had to be particularly difficult for DU Athletic Director Karlton Creech, who has a well-documented reputation of strongly supporting his coaching staff both at Maine (where he was AD before Denver) and here at DU. Our attempts to confirm/clarify these specific coaching cuts have been met with silence from DU Athletics to date, likely (and understandably) out of respect for their former co-workers.

As with most downsizing, expect staff and coaches to assume additional responsibilities to pick up the slack. And most ‘athlete-facing’ positions will remain relatively unchanged in most sports.

Men’s head golf coach, Erik Billinger, is stepping down to take a fundraising position with ACE Scholarships a non-profit where the mission is to “provide children of low-income families with scholarships tp private schools in grades K-12, and an advocate for expanded school choice”. Billinger’s new title will be Development Director for Colorado for scholarships. Billinger’s departure may be entirely unrelated to the COVID-19 impacts and a career choice after guiding DU men’s golf for six seasons.

There are also reported position changes to DU’s game operations and sports performance staff . Some of these changes include the permanent elimination of these positions, while other changes involve furloughs, where there may be an opportunity to bring some of those employees back to work in busier future times.  We will report more on all of these cuts if and when we can get better clarity.

At this point in time, most of Denver’s revenue-driver, NCAA top-10 major sports teams appear to be relatively unscathed by the staffing cuts – hockey, men’s and women’s lacrosse and gymnastics. The same no-firing-of-coaches status appears to be the case for men’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, and men’s/women’s swimming & diving, at least to date. As we recently reported, DU Athletics has also posted the head coaching job description for women’s basketball coach, where the staff is now mostly vacant after the forced departure of former head coach Jim Turgeon, two assistant coaches and the recent hiring of former DU associate head coach Kayla Ard by Utah State as the Aggies’ new head coach, all in recent weeks.

This round of DU budget cuts is based on University projections of a ‘best case scenario’ of a $45 million dollar COVID-19 revenue shortfall across the whole University. There could be more budget challenges coming on the horizon as Denver Athletics grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially if there are additional revenue shortfalls brought on by a future ‘second wave’ of the pandemic.

Overall, while painful, Creech has appeared to ring-fence his flagship sports and retained his core of top coaches to date, while not cutting any full sports teams. For that, DU sports fans can be grateful – although we’re all concerned for those assistant coaches and other DU sports personnel and their families, whose lives have been upended in recent weeks.

Photo courtesy DU Athletics

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