The University of Denver has reached out to a familiar hockey face to lead the Pioneer Athletic Department and named Josh Berlo as its new Vice-Chancellor for Athletics and Ritchie Center Operations. The announcement will be made this morning at 10:45 at Ritchie Center on the DU campus. Berlo has been the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Athletic Director since 2013 and had just signed a three-year contract extension at UMD just a couple of weeks ago. The Pioneers, however, were able to pry him away from Duluth.
Berlo was among a group of several extremely qualified candidates that DU considered – including at least three other sitting Athletic Directors from the West Coast Conference and the Patriot League schools. He will replace outgoing Vice-Chancellor for Athletics Karlton Creech, who came to DU from the University of Maine in 2018.
Here at LetsGoDU, we’re excited about Berlo’s hire for a couple of reasons – first, as a fellow NCHC Athletic Director, Berlo understands the primacy and importance of building and maintaining an NCAA Championship Ice Hockey program at a hockey-first institution. Berlo helped oversee UMD’s hockey excellence in achieving to back-to-back men’s NCAA titles in 2018 and 2019, spurred on by UMD’s loss to Denver in 2017 NCAA title game. This hire should satisfy DU hockey fans — by far DU’s largest single-sport fan base — that Berlo gets the unique role that hockey plays at our school, and how that high level of ambition must be supported.
But beyond hockey, we’re also excited about Berlo’s background in marketing and fan experience in his 13 years at Notre Dame, before joining UMD. DU has not had a true marketer as its AD since Bernie Mullin (DU’s AD from 1995-1999 who helped take DU to a full-D-I institution), typically preferring to select ADs with administrative or coaching backgrounds. DU certainly needs more help in improving its market position in Denver and around the country and DU’s fan experience in Denver has become somewhat stale in recent years.
Since his arrival at UMD, Berlo also made fan experience and engagement a top priority while helping expand the national profile of Bulldog athletics.
“Our athletic programs enjoy a tremendous level of support in Minnesota and beyond,” Berlo says in his UMD bio. “As such, it is our duty to provide the ultimate fan experience, serve as role models and help instill a source of community pride.”
The concerns in Denver about the Berlo hire will likely center on his lack of experience leading a full D-I athletic department (UMD is D-II in all but men’s and women’s ice hockey), his perceived ability to improve DU’s primary conference situation, and his ability to fundraise at the elevated level that DU requires. He’ll also have to engage some perhaps skeptical coaches about his ability and leadership style. Berlo also has had some poor perception issues with coaching decisions, including the Shannon Miller women’s hockey discrimination controversy.
However, during his tenure with the Bulldogs, after perhaps botching the women’s hockey coaching transition – which still worked out on the ice in the long run – nearly all of his hires and coaching decisions have been home runs. Between retaining UMD men’s hockey coach Scott Sandelin for the long haul (despite undoubtedly many suitors looking for his services) and overseeing the rejuvenation of both men’s and women’s basketball, at least at the D-2 level, Berlo has shown a keen eye for identifying and attracting the right coaches for his programs.
Elected the 2017-18 NACDA Division II Athletic Director of the Year Award recipient, Berlo oversees all UMD head coaches, staff and administrative personnel, student-athlete experience, developing and implementing a strategic plan, managing the departmental budget, directing the use of the University’s athletic facilities, and leading fundraising and marketing efforts for the 16-sport UMD program.
His tenure at UMD has also seen sustained and elevated levels of success in the classroom, competitively, and in the community.
Most importantly, though, Berlo has some good, applicable fundraising experience, helping to spearhead a $10 million renovation of UMD’s Romano Gymnasium as well as major upgrades to both James S. Malosky Stadium and the Ward Wells Fieldhouse, expanded television coverage, and enhanced broadcast quality locally, regionally (on FSN and CBS Sports Network) and digitally through the launch of Bulldog Productions; signing Under Armour as the official apparel and uniform partner of the Bulldogs (more than doubling the value previously provided to UMD athletics annually); setting the all-time single-season and single-game attendance records for men’s hockey and football; and the addition of $700,000 in LED video and score boards at four on-campus venues. In addition, UMD has experienced six consecutive years of generating over $1.0 million in annual fundraising donations.
In competition, 13 of 16 UMD programs have all qualified for NCAA regional and national tournaments with men’s hockey capturing the NCAA title in both 2018 and 2019. Over that same span, 76 Bulldogs attained All-American status and three coaches (hockey’s Scott Sandelin and Maura Crowell and football’s Curt Wiese) have been recipients of a national Coach of the Year honor.
Prior to joining the Bulldog staff, Berlo was employed as Notre Dame’s senior assistant athletics director for guest relations and event marketing. In this role, he oversaw all aspects of athletic ticketing, event marketing and promotional efforts, football game-day parking operations and revenue generation: the Drive with the Irish sponsorship program. He also was the administrator for Notre Dame baseball and he represented Notre Dame on the Executive Committee of the Sports Management Institute (SMI), a program with which he has been involved since his undergraduate days and completed in 2008. Berlo currently is an athletic director representative on the SMI Executive Committee.
A native of Warren, R.I., Berlo earned his Bachelor’s degree in sport management from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1999 and his MBA (with a concentration in finance and communication) from Notre Dame five years later. He and his wife, Meg, have one son (Michael).
This morning’s official announcement of Berlo’s hire will not be live-streamed but it will be recorded and later posted online.