AD Creech Needs a Bold, Visionary Hoops Coach for DU

For die-hard Denver Pioneer fans, this week has been excruciating.  Our sub-.500 hockey team did not get a bid to the NCAA Tournament and it’s also frustrating to watch basketball’s March Madness as Oral Roberts from the Summit League defeats both Ohio State and Florida, North Texas bounces Purdue and little Loyola-Chicago defeats #1 seed Illinois.  It is all so distant – and disappointing. In one example, hockey, you have confidence that they will get back to the NCAA tournament soon. As for DU basketball, the answer feels more like never, especially to a long-suffering fan base.

The reality is that the search for a new DU basketball head coach will be the biggest coaching hire that Vice-Chancellor for Athletics, Karlton Creech, is likely to make at DU since David Carle was hired as hockey coach when Jim Montgomery left for the Dallas Stars. Sure, DU is a hockey-centric school and Denver has become strong at a number of other sports. However, basketball remains an untapped profit center and the greatest potential brand builder for a school that could really use both.

No team in Crimson and Gold has fallen further than men’s basketball, which finished as worst in the country among Division I teams playing this season, at RPI number 347, where the only programs with a lower ranking chose not to play this year. This overall slippage makes it more difficult to look at men’s basketball as an outlier. In fact, Denver’s past success in so many other sports has largely insulated the DU Athletic Administration from taking too much heat for the horrible men’s basketball results over the last few years.

However, many of the (relatively few) Denver basketball fans have come to the end of their ropes, or worse, they have already checked out altogether. And the excuses for having such a poor hoops team are wearing thin when Summit League schools located in the prairies of Tulsa, Okla. and the more barren plains of Fargo, N.D. and Brookings, S.D., have won basketball conference titles over the past ten seasons. Even DU athletes in other sports raise their eyebrows when talking about the ongoing lack of performance of their men’s basketball peers. This performance gap is outright embarrassing – for them, and for us as DU fans.

The bottom line is someone has to take ownership of the floundering hoops program and that task falls on the shoulders of Creech (and his search committee), who before Denver and his last job at the University of Maine, spent 13 years combined working in fundraising and administration in the basketball-mad North Carolina State and University of North Carolina athletic departments. So, clearly, he must understand in a very fundamental way, what a strong basketball program can do for an athletic department, for a university’s national profile, and for alumni relations.

Coming up on three years at the athletic helm at DU, Creech has performed well. He has gained plaudits for tweaking the structure of the department to align, support, and show loyalty to his existing coaches and staffers. He also provided much-needed continuity from the amazing results of the Peg Bradley-Doppes administration, shored-up needed finances during these terribly uncertain Covid times, and has also landed some key sponsorships over the last year with the Centura Health and New Balance deals for the athletic department. Perhaps at no time has the athletic department needed a strong administration more than during the COVID-19 pandemic when Creech and his staff and university leaders have kept Denver athletics humming along.

He also made the David Carle hockey hire three years ago that we all strongly supported here at LetsGoDU.

But now is a chance for Creech to display his hoops chops with a bold outside coaching hire. Although he is wearing some financial handcuffs and has no young hotshot assistant coach (like Carle) down the hall to elevate into the job, this should not be an easy decision or simply a local backyard slam dunk.

Said Creech on his initial hiring to the Denver Post, “My role early is going to be learning how we got to where we are and make sure I don’t mess that up in any way,” he said. “Then it’s about creating the next challenge. At a place like the University of Denver, we can be whatever we envision ourselves to be. We’ve just got to establish what’s next and go get it.”

Well, here we are now, and there is no bigger challenge at the DU athletic department than fixing the raging dumpster fire in the basketball program, where the program has bottomed out nationally, the coaches are all gone, and the three best players on the team are now reportedly in the transfer portal.

Shortly, we will all get a chance to see where the DU basketball program will be as both a ‘next challenge’ and as a priority for an athletic department that frankly has limited funds, average-to-middling institutional support, and a largely poor basketball tradition. The ultimate measure of Creech’s hoops head coach hire will be about wins and losses – regardless of what any of us think of the initial hire. No doubt, DU fans will accept any new coach if that coach can generate wins. However, if this is a hire of local convenience and lacks vision, follow-through, and high-level support…and if the losing persists, the repercussions will reach well beyond the basketball court.

We’ve said it many times: a good basketball program can provide much-needed gate revenue, increased national visibility, and provide DU with conference affiliation flexibility. With a great city and school to sell, DU should be able to achieve success in the Summit League without 5-star recruits and a nationally-renowned head coach.  But at the same time, DU must be willing to look at the widest possible pool of available talent.

A coaching search that is not truly national, lacks creativity, and is just ‘safe’ is likely to fail in changing the endemic culture of losing basketball. Should Denver’s other sports backslide during non-COVID times, the heat on the Denver men’s basketball program will only continue to be turned up. Unlike the rest of the department, DU’s head basketball coaching job does not require merely a tweak here and there. It needs bold, dynamic leadership — an entire make-over – and a whole new culture change. And that change should extend to fans who should demand and expect better, too.

We’ve heard from Hoops Dirt that Creech may be looking here in Colorado at successful D-2 programs. According to their report, Pryor Orser, the head coach of the Colorado School of Mines, is a prime hiring option. Orser would certainly know the Colorado recruiting market for talent and would certainly fit within DU’s budget limitations.  And such a hire could, in theory, turn out well. That’s certainly the safest and the easiest route for Creech.

But honestly, we’re hoping for more than just choosing the safe, local D-2 coaching route, especially if more attractive options are available.  A national coaching search shouldn’t just end up in the backyard. It should shake the national coaching tree to produce a visionary coach. Winning here is doable in the Summit, with a lot to sell.  Find your coach first, and sell that coach on DU as a platform.

We hope Creech understands the need for a bold and experienced coach who can inspire, who can sell our program around the country, who can attract (and develop) a higher level of talent for Denver. Ideally, it should be someone who knows D-I basketball, and hopefully, someone who has won at the D-I level as a head coach or an obvious up-and-coming D2 rock-star coach seen widely as a can’t miss D-I level coach.

Tom Petty once sang that “The waiting is the hardest part”. But even worse than waiting is making the wrong decision. The most important thing is getting it right.

Either way, Karlton Creech will be judged on how he does with this hire. It’s a chance to add to his obvious administrative skills and accomplishments to transform a moribund basketball program in need of serious resuscitation into a winning program that our fans should be proud to support.

Go Pioneers!

Photo: Meg Minard, Stadium Journey

10 thoughts on “AD Creech Needs a Bold, Visionary Hoops Coach for DU”

  1. Average institutional support until lacrosse wins a natty and Becky is happy to take a pic with the trophy like it’s her newborn

    1. Let’s hope that happens for men and women’s teams. The ‘average institutional support’ referenced basketball only. Sports like hockey and lacrosse at DU are supported at a high level of funding relative to key competitors. BTW, we want a trophy pic, too!

  2. DU basketball has been sub-par for quite a while. It seems the program gets little attention. Certanly lots of potential in a market like Denver. Embarrassing to see teams from South Dakota & North Dakota beat the Pioneers year after year!

  3. The past 2 NMSU coaches don’t have jobs. They moved on to UNLV and New Mexico. They know the west half of the country and should be competitive at a low level job. Orlando Ortega from Illinois wants another D1 shot as does AFA assistant Sidney Johnson. They would give us credibility. None of the 4 above will demand big bucks. Naturally Cal assistant Trent Jones puts us on the map. With a real strong hire, some of our portal players might reconsider. That would make a transition easier.

  4. Great synopsis. As an alum, I appreciate the successes of all DU programs, however, you hit the nail on the head regarding the fundamental way a strong basketball program can financially transform an athletic department. Perhaps a bit naïve to compare DU to Gonzaga, but when you examine endowment, academic rigor, quality of location, athletic success (capital one cups), etc., you’re left scratching your head on why DU can’t eventually compete with other mid majors (especially in the Summit League).

    Hoping Creech exceeds expectations with the hire and invests the necessary resources on finding a program changing coach. I am pessimistic based on what we’re reading from HoopDirt….but will do my best to heed the advice from Tom Petty.

  5. Think OUTSIDE the box!
    I’ve been coaching in europe for 25 years and I highly recommend a young american coach who has been coaching over here for 7 years. I have recommended him for jobs in the north-east, my territory, but he’s a family-man and is not interested in moving his family there. His family is from CO and would want to move back. In my long time in europe I have never seen a coach connect to his players and build a joy and love for the game so quickly. He’s great at finding talent and recruiting players to his program – competing with teams that have professional players with his unpaid young players and older veterans.
    My experience coaching both overseas and at the college level is that it would be great for schools to look outside of the college-carousel, a lot of coaches just being reused and showing a lack of loyalty.
    This younger coach I’m recommending would be a blessing for any program because of his ability to recruit, develop and his extreme loyalty. He has always been honest with me, even when it means he’s losing players. He always wants what’s best for the players and the reputation spread quickly among younger players in northern europe. If you would hire this guy he would bring a large network of talent

  6. He would be a great solution at building your program into a strong program and I know his loyalty would keep him in place when bigger schools would try to pry him away. I know he applied for the position after I called him and told him about it. Not sure if he has received an interview but I’m telling you he would be a game changer and bring a new fresh attitude to college hoops. I’m avoiding mentioning his name here because I know how humble he is. It’s your chance to make a bold hire as the article states! Best of luck to rebuilding the program

  7. Pryor Orsor has done a phenomenal job at CSM. The school increased funding and built new facilites. He also took recruiting to a national level as he did not have enought prospects in Colorado to be competitive at such a demanding academic institution. Key to winning at DU is to have a great evaluator of talent and find overlooked players who will develop over 4 years. Joe Rosga comes to mind. Jeff Linder did this at UNC and is now doing it at Wyoming.

  8. Joe Rosga was not overlooked. Both Army and Minnesota wanted him. He came to DU because his eyesight failed the physical at Army.

  9. Interesting to note that Paul Mills from ORU may have the least head coaching experience in the Summit Leeague. He coached high school (his highest level) and was an assistant at Baylor for 14 years. So, the selection of a head coach is not an exact science. Ultimately, it is an evaluation of character, talent development, leadership, hoops knowledge and a ‘gut feel’. I just hope DU can get this right…

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