The University of Denver Pioneers have ascended to NCAA tournaments 199 times in 15 men’s and women’s sports.
The athletic department of the prestigious private school, with an enrollment of only 11,600 students, has won a remarkable 33 national championships.
But DU men’s basketball never has qualified for March Madness. Most seasons, particularly recently, the Pioneers do a February Flop.
When Joe Scott, who compiled a decent 146-132 record, was fired in 2016, one of the plethora of associate vice chancellors declared: “We want to go to the NCAA Tournament.’’
Three days later former DU player Rodney Billups was hired. Over five seasons he was 48-94, with a 2-19 mark this season.
Perceptive Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee wrote Sunday that the coach had to be fired. A day later Karlton Creech, who has the exalted title of vice chancellor for athletics, reacted to Klee by dumping Billups.
All the king’s horses and the king’s vice chancellors at the intersection of University and Evans can’t seem to assemble Humpty Dumpty.
If the university is serious about bringing back a basketball program that was respectable from 1978-1997 under the late Ben Jobe and Floyd Theard, who also has passed away, and Dick Peth and, later, from 2007-16, with Scott (now back at Air Force), a bold, brilliant plan to reach the NCAA Tournament is in order rather than the “usual suspects’’ process Creech proposes.
Why not consider veteran college-pro coaches who have been successful in Denver and proven on the National (Basketball Association) stage?
How about John Welch or Mike Dunlap — two of the most outstanding coaches I’ve been around in the basketball business. Masai Ujiri, who was the Nuggets’ general manager and executive of the year, once said, to columnist Benjamin Hochman, about Welch when he was a Nuggets’ assistant: “I don’t want to talk about him. I don’t want anybody else to get him. John is the best.’’
Dunlap, also an ex-Nuggets assistant and Hornets head coach, won the NCAA Division II national championship twice at Metro State. He also was the Loyola-Marymount coach for six seasons and is a Milwaukee Bucks assistant.
Welch and Dunlap served under George Karl. Welsh was a Karl assistant from 2005-2013 in Denver and coached alongside Dunlap from 2006-2008 when the Nuggets began winning 50 games, and more, annually.
Karl always had high praise for each.
Karlton should contact Karl for his appraisal. He certainly must be familiar with the old hoops coach, who played at North Carolina. The Pioneers’ athletics boss was born in Chapel Hill, N.C., the home of the University of North Carolina, and was senior associate athletic director with the Tar Heels for a decade.
Tuesday I asked Karl, who lives a bicycle ride from the DU campus, if he had any curiosity about the Pioneers’ job.
Karl, involved in myriad business projects doesn’t plan to return to coaching soon, with a caveat, but he’s aware that at least a couple of his former assistants would be interested in interviewing. Karl said he certainly would offer recommendations.
Welch, who also coached under Jerry Tarkanian in college and under Hubie Brown, Jason Kidd and Doc Rivers in the NBA, took this year off to watch son Riley, who played at Chatfield High and is a senior reserve guard at Kentucky.
If Welch were to be offered the DU position, Karl said he “would be willing to help John in any role’’ as an assistant or consultant.
In addition, a potential package deal could include Steve Hess, who spent more than two decades with the Nuggets as assistant coach/strength and conditioning. Hess has a son who is a DU student.
Dunlap already has turned around one college program in Denver and another in Los Angeles. He was the Roadrunners’ coach from 1997-2006, winning 28 games or more six seasons, and also managed 22 victories with Loyola-Marymount in 2018-19. The Bucks are his fourth NBA team.
DU men’s basketball should have a team the hockey, lacrosse, gymnastics and soccer teams, and the students, can be proud of.
And perhaps those 12 vice chancellors, and the lead chancellor, would be euphoric if the Pioneers could play in the NCAA basketball tournament even once.