Final Thoughts on DU’s Athletic Director Hire

Like our new AD logo? Just kidding. On a more serious note, according to our sources, final interviews are taking place this week for candidates vying to be DU’s next Athletic Director. We expect to hear an announcement over the next week.

Clearly, fundraising is going to need to be the priority for the incoming candidate. With the increasing cost of Division I athletics, every avenue must be explored to generate new revenue streams for DU Athletics. The new AD will need to cultivate a new generation of donors for DU Athletics. That includes facilities and salaries to retain and recruit the best possible coaches and support staff. While Karlton Creech identified key sports such as hockey, lacrosse, and gymnastics, support was pulled away from other department areas.

DU athletics are more vulnerable than ever with short staff in some support areas and, potentially, the risk of more coaches leaving the University of Denver. The new AD must be able to provide the necessary financial support to retain excellent coaching and support staff, comparable to DU’s peer schools in each sport, in order for DU to continue to field competitive teams. Add Denver’s high cost of living and inflation and what was once a dream landing spot for top talent has become more challenging. Some of this also requires the AD to sell the Board of Trustees on the importance of additional funding for athletics when the Board and even Pioneers fans have grown complacent with DU’s annual success (see the annual Directors’ Cup victories). DU Athletics is the most successful and visible division at DU – without question. However, it could face a precipitous decline if Denver continues to rely on past results as an indication of future success.

Athletic department morale is another issue that must be addressed by the incoming AD. The answer to strong leadership is not just more money – it is building a cohesive department that works together. Karlton Creech was an introvert operating during an incredibly stressful period of isolation and COVID-19 while managing Denver through the chaos. Based on that and hockey’s record-tying 9th national championship, his contributions will be forever appreciated. However, that method of leadership often stifles internal communication, creates uncertainty, and may push department members into factions or their own fiefdoms.

The new AD must be a uniter who can effectively deliver and explain both good news and bad news to his organization so there is a clear understanding of the decision(s). For example, DU Athletics was subject to deeper cuts than the other university divisions during Covid-19 pandemic yet there was not a clear explanation or discussion within DU Athletics department of the move. Maybe that would have happened under any AD, however, the role of a leader is to thoroughly explain the ‘why’ decisions are made.

Jim Montgomery and Bill Tierney, two veteran coaches, often talked about the camaraderie in the coaches’ room under visionary and all-time great AD Peg Bradley-Doppes. That closeness and collaboration has faded somewhat her departure. Sometimes, a solid working environment trumps money and what might be considered a more desirable position elsewhere. The new athletic director must build on the strength of DU’s current coaches room and ensure his/her coaches work together as a cohesive unit and collaborate to the benefit of the entire department.

It is our understanding that no current or former DU staff are in the final candidate pool. We believe that a deep bench in the past has helped DU Athletics promote internal staff and coaches in a number of areas and we believe the same could be done with the Athletic Director position. Remember, the role of current/former staff is to be the mouthpiece for the athletic director and he/she may have a different perspective and approach when the reins are in his/her hands. We can think of two particularly strong candidates, one currently inside DU athletics now, as well as a former staff member who left, who should have been serious candidates for the final round of interviews. At a minimum, these interviews can be used by the interviewees to hone their interview skills and receive feedback from the committee on what they need to work on to become future candidates. Sometimes, people outside an organization may appear to have all the answers while internal candidates are often overlooked for a shiny new object. Plus, from a morale standpoint, high internal performers should be rewarded with an opportunity for consideration.

We do have some insight on a few candidates and the pool is strong. The committee has been tasked with finding a replacement with actual Athletic Director experience but there is a possibility a long-shot candidate could emerge with major university athletic experience without direct AD experience. We are looking anxiously for the announcement when a new leader is named to guide DU athletics in what is surely a turbulent and exciting period in collegiate athletics.

At the top of the list is cash generation for capital improvements and ensuring that all DU sports are positioned and supported to compete on level-footing, led by strong, effective leader.

6 thoughts on “Final Thoughts on DU’s Athletic Director Hire”

  1. As retired faculty and multi sport season ticket holder who lives a block from the Ritchie Center I am so hopeful the AD search result is great!

  2. Creech accomplished some very important things at DU – his hire of David Carle has proven to be a masterful selection – one of the best young hockey coaches in the world who has already brought an NCAA title to Denver, vanquishing both the most talented team (Michigan) and the top-ranked team (Minnesota State) under the bright lights of the Frozen Four.

    He also hired Jeff Welbrun in men’s hoops, who turned DU from the worst team in D-I to a team with double-digit wins with a single short recruiting season to fill a depleted roster.

    Those two coaching hires will definite his legacy at DU, and it’s likely to be a good legacy.

    Here’s hoping the next person can build on that, with more fundraising, facility upgrades, NIL innovation, coaching camraderie/retention and a stronger commitment to building school spirit and game-day experience.

  3. Look no further than Boulder for an example of what happens when there is a disconnect between the school administration and the athletic department. A school that once had a perennial top 20 football program spent the last 20+ years systematically dismantling the program in order to avoid any hint of impropriety. Now the damage is done, and no amount of money can change the trajectory. DU has a solid athletic department, but without proper attention, guidance and admin support, it can suffer the same fate.

  4. That’s very true. The CU athletic ambition level has changed. I am not sure CU is willing to pay the $50ish million? more that it would take to be a national contender in football anymore. They dont have the money, the donors nor the corporate base to do it. They get exactly what they do pay for — a 4-8 Pac 12 team. Just enough to win a big game now and again, but mostly losses…

    DU is certainly willing to fund hockey among the highest levels of the sport, and they get a top level result for that investment. Men’s Lacrosse is also funded well, but is sliding from a contending program, to just a solid one now. DU M Hoops has nowhere near the funding that it takes to be nationally relevant, but it has enough to be a Summit Contender – DU would have to double its hoops spend to match a WCC-level mid major program, and far more for national relevance. For comparison, Villanova spends about $15 million on men’s hoops each year, and DU spends about $2.5 -3 million.

Leave a Reply