How to succeed in business: Be prepared to make sacrifices. Never give less than 110 percent. Understand your competition. Commit to playing the long game.
Sure, it’s a little more involved than that, but that’s the abridged version. Athletes everywhere would do well to commit these instructions to memory as well. Business and sports are veritable parallel universes in so many ways, which may help explain why four of the University of Denver’s 17 head coaches are Daniels alumni. Regardless of the reason, Daniels is incredibly proud that these Pioneers returned to their alma mater to coach the Pioneers in golf, basketball, hockey and Nordic skiing. We caught up with Erik Billinger (BSBA 2002), Rodney Billups (BSBA 2005), David Carle (BSBA 2012) and David Stewart (MBA 2012) at the start of the 2018-2019 season to learn, among other things, about their individual coaching styles; the challenges, rewards and surprises associated with their profession; and the importance of doing the right thing.
ERIK BILLINGER (BSBA 2002), Head Coach, Men’s Golf
Selling a vision: “When you’re the leader of an organization, you’re constantly having to sell your vision and your mission and your brand. I learned that when I got my marketing degree from Daniels, and it’s really useful when I’m recruiting and fundraising, both of which require me to sell the DU brand, our values system and our mission as a team.”
The four pillars: “I describe coaching as having four pillars: One pillar is recruiting, one pillar is fundraising, one pillar is the actual coaching, and the final pillar is the organizational and administrative side. Of those four foundations of coaching, I would say people are surprised when they learn that you have to do a lot of fundraising. That’s a major part of the job.”
Going with the flow: “There are so many life lessons in golf. You learn perseverance and you learn how to deal with adversity because it’s such a difficult game. The goal is to reach the flow state or the zone, and just let it happen. That’s always fun when you get there, but it doesn’t come easily.”
Good for business: “From an ethical standpoint, golf is a game of integrity so you have to learn how to call penalties on yourself sometimes. In that respect—and others—I would say that golf and business go hand in hand. If you have golf skills, it’s an asset in the business world, absolutely. Just from a relational standpoint, being able to meet with clients and spend time with them on a golf course is pretty valuable in the business world.”
Wise counsel: “I use this quote from Aristotle all the time: ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.’”
After graduating from Daniels with a degree in marketing in 2002, Billinger spent two seasons splitting his time between the DU men’s and women’s golf programs, supporting both head coaches with recruiting and practice planning. He went on to enjoy a successful decadelong career as a PGA golf instructor at Highlands Ranch Golf Club, where he also owned and operated Billinger Golf LCC. During his time at Highlands Ranch Golf Club—the home course for Pioneer Golf—Billinger mentored and instructed golfers of all levels, including high school, college and professional players. He returned to DU in 2012 as the men’s golf head coach. As a player and a coach, Billinger has received several prestigious awards over the course of his career, including the 2008 Colorado PGA Player of the Year Award and the 2010 and 2012 Colorado Teacher of the Year awards. He qualified for two PGA Professional National Championships, won the Pebble Beach Pro-Scratch twice and won several local PGA Section events. When he played for the Pioneers, Billinger was a two-time NCAA individual qualifier, a Sun Belt Conference Individual Champion in 2001 and an Academic All-American in 2002. Billinger has three children with his wife and fellow Pioneer, Megan Billinger (MBA 2003).
RODNEY BILLUPS (BSBA 2005), Head Coach, Men’s Basketball
A management degree is handy: “I use my degree every single day, whether I’m managing personalities—which is probably the most difficult—managing a budget, managing travel or managing my time. The things I learned at Daniels fit perfectly with my coaching career.”
Words to live by: “‘Tough times never last. Tough people do.’ I have that on my wall and I got it from my grandfather who passed away in 2002. He said it all the time.”
A love of the game: “I think the thing that I love the most about basketball is that it’s a unifier, especially in America. If you had a gym class, you played basketball. Men play it, women play it, people of all abilities play it. It’s something that unifies different cultures and different backgrounds. At a time when there’s so much division, we can use it as common ground.”
It’s not just a job: “It’s really not a job, it’s a lifestyle because it never stops. In the off-season, there’s recruiting. When you’re in-season, you’re working every single day trying to prepare to win and trying to make these student-athletes the best players, the best people and the best teammates they can possibly be. It’s a lifestyle and whatever that entails, you do it. Whether that means you make a fool of yourself and dance in front of the team to try to get them to lighten up and get out of their own way, or you discipline someone for not being on time for class, you do it.”
Education first: “For me, having 100 percent of my student-athletes graduate is probably the biggest reward. When we talk to their parents and families during recruiting, that’s what we offer: education first and the opportunity to play basketball second.”
Now in his third season as head coach of DU men’s basketball, Rodney Billups continues to raise the profile and performance of the Crimson and Gold, having spent six seasons on the coaching staff at the University of Colorado. During his tenure at CU, the Buffaloes accumulated 130 victories, including five of CU’s nine most-winning seasons in school history. Billups has coached a number of student-athletes to conference excellence and has helped usher several former students to professional careers with the NBA. An outstanding player, Billups was a three-year standout at DU from 2002-2005; in his senior year he averaged 10.2 points, 6.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game, and his 199 assists ranked third in school history, while his 58 steals ranked seventh. In 2004-2005, Billups helped the Pioneers win 20 games and a National Invitation Tournament berth while also receiving the Floyd M. Theard Jr. Memorial Award, presented annually to the DU men’s basketball player who best displays the qualities of leadership, scholarship and sportsmanship. After earning his degree from Daniels in management in 2005, Billups played professional basketball for ASK Riga in Latvia, where he led the league in steals and assists, and he also played one year in Finland.
DAVID CARLE (BSBA 2012), Head Coach, Hockey
The Daniels experience: “As a Daniels graduate, I have an understanding of what our players are going through because I went through it. Probably 80 percent of our players are Daniels students, so I can have conversations with them outside of hockey about the classes they’re in and some of the professors they have because I had a lot of the same professors myself.”
Communication is key: “I’m a communicator and a teacher first. My expectations are high, and all of us in the program hold our players accountable to those expectations.”
Accentuating the positive: “When you help players—and teams—through challenges and adversity, and see them use adversity to a positive effect, it’s really rewarding. It’s exciting when you have the opportunity to shed a positive light on things and help springboard players forward, either as individuals or as parts of a team.”
It’s like family: “For me, I love the sense of family and community involved with hockey. I think athletes are willing to help each other within our sport and they stick together. You build lifelong relationships and friendships in this sport. It’s kind of a gateway to things that are bigger than sports and bigger than hockey.”
The perfect trifecta: “Our student-athletes are here for more than just hockey. When we’re recruiting, we promote the fact that DU has unbelievable offerings academically, socially and athletically. Our student-athletes want all three of those experiences at a really high level.”
David Carle was named DU’s Richard and Kitzia Goodman Head Coach in May 2018, becoming the ninth head coach in the history of the program and the youngest active head coach in NCAA Division I college hockey at age 28. The Alaska native served as an assistant coach with the Pioneers under Jim Montgomery, joining the program in 2014 following a season and a half as an assistant coach with the United States Hockey League’s Green Bay Gamblers. As assistant coach with the Pioneers, Carle helped Denver to a 115-51-23 record, a 66-32-14-8 mark in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, one NCHC regular-season title, two NCHC Frozen Faceoff titles, five NCAA Tournament appearances, two Frozen Four appearances and the 2017 National Championship. While in Green Bay, Carle helped the Gamblers to a 37-23-4 record, a second-place finish in the USHL’s Eastern Conference and a franchise record 15 consecutive wins on home ice. Prior to joining the Gamblers, Carle served four seasons as a student assistant coach with the Pioneers after being diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which forced him to retire from his playing career. As a player, Carle was a defenseman at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota, helping the Sabres capture back-to-back national titles in 2007 and 2008. He was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the seventh round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and was recruited to play at DU before receiving his diagnosis. Carle resides in Denver with his wife, Mellissa Lewis.
DAVID STEWART (MBA 2012), Head Coach, Nordic Skiing
Creating a culture: “Many elements of my Daniels education have contributed in some way to my work as a coach. The emphasis that Daniels places on ethical leadership has been particularly valuable to me. Also, while I was at Daniels, the emphasis placed on culture helped me to understand how our attitude and what we do every day as coaches can influence performance.”
Collaborative coaching: “We have a diverse team of athletes who each come to our team with their individual dreams and goals, and I see my most important role as partnering with each of them to achieve these.”
Ski in the snow, train on dry land: “Skiing is obviously a winter snow sport, so many people are surprised that the vast majority of our training is during the off-season in dryland training. The other unique aspect of ski racing has become the importance of ski preparation (ski selection, tuning, waxing, etc.) for specific snow conditions. During the winter, a huge part of our work as coaches focuses on testing skis and the hundreds of products designed to make them go fast.”
The great outdoors: “I love to be active outside with other people who feel the same way. Skiing and all the training we do is a great excuse to get outside in any conditions and environment, and simply enjoy it.”
A symbiotic relationship: “I strongly believe that athletics and academics have a symbiotic relationship with one another. Exercise enhances our ability to learn, and studying is a perfect activity to balance the physically intense demands of training and racing. For me, the life of the student-athlete is the pinnacle of sport, where sport is still kept in a healthy place without becoming all-consuming. Of course, there are occasional time conflicts, but we are fortunate to be able to prioritize academics and keep sport as an integral part of each student’s broader education.”
Now in his 12th season as Nordic skiing head coach at DU, David Stewart has led the Pioneers to six NCAA National Championships, including the 2018, 2016 and 2014 titles and three consecutive titles from 2008-2010. Under Stewart, DU Nordic skiers have won five individual national championships, skied to 50 All-American performances and earned four RMISA MVP awards. As a result of the team’s national success, Stewart was named 2016 USCSCA co-Nordic National Coach of the Year as well as RMISA Coach of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2014, 2016 and 2018. A Vermont native, Stewart skied for the University of Vermont, graduating in 2000. After Vermont, he raced for the Subaru Factory Team for five years. During that time, he had multiple Top 10 results at the U.S. National Championships and represented the United States in the World Cup competition in 2005. Stewart is married with one child and lives in Denver.