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UMD athletic director Josh Berlo leaving Bulldogs to take over Denver athletic department

Josh Berlo has served as athletic director at the University of Minnesota Duluth since 2013. The Pioneers are members of the NCHC and NCAA Division I Summit League.

UMD athletic director Josh Berlo leaving Bulldogs to take over Denver athletic department
Minnesota Duluth athletic director Josh Berlo speaks while hosting a panel discussing on the significance of Title IX with women involved in UMD athletics Tuesday, May 24, 2022, at Marshall Performing Arts Center in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — University of Minnesota Duluth athletic director Josh Berlo is leaving the Bulldogs after nine seasons to head the athletic department at the University of Denver, a National Collegiate Hockey Conference rival of the UMD men’s hockey program.

Berlo, who came to the Bulldogs from Notre Dame in April 2013, succeeds Karlton Creech as the Pioneers’ Vice Chancellor for Athletics and Ritchie Center Operations. He begins at Denver on July 15.

Denver is an NCAA Division I athletic program that sponsors 18 sports, but not football or women’s hockey. Most programs, such as men’s and women’s basketball, compete in the Summit League while men’s hockey is a member of the NCHC, the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams are affiliates of the Big East and gymnastics is an affiliate of the Big 12.

"My family is honored to be joining the prestigious University of Denver and its exceptional academic and athletic traditions," Berlo said in the Pioneers' announcement on the morning of Thursday, June 2 . "DU offers a world-class experience for our student-athletes, coaches and staff, and I look forward to contributing to that experience as well as the overall institutional mission."

Berlo’s tenure at UMD — a primarily NCAA Division II department that competes in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference — has been an eventful and controversial one, especially when it comes to the school’s two NCAA Division I hockey programs.

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The men’s hockey team is experiencing unprecedented success, going on a run of seven consecutive NCAA Division I tournament appearances — eight if not for COVID-19 canceling the 2020 postseason — that includes four straight NCAA Frozen Four appearances between 2017-2021 and back-to-back national championships in 2018 and 2019.

Amsoil Arena has also ranked among the top five venues in average attendance in NCAA Division I men’s hockey for three consecutive seasons — not counting 2020-21 due to COVID-19 restrictions — drawing 5,882 per game in 2021-22.

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UMD athletic director Josh Berlo, left, Gov. Mark Dayton, UMD hockey coach Scott Sandelin, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and state Rep. Mary Murphy pose for a photo at the state Capitol after Dayton proclaimed Wednesday “UMD Men’s Hockey National Champions Day” in Minnesota. Contributed / Office of the Governor

"The University of Denver has made an excellent selection in Josh Berlo to be the next Vice Chancellor of Athletics," Josh Fenton, the former NCHC commissioner and new commissioner of the Summit League, said in a statement. "I have worked with Josh for many years, and his student-first mentality, vast experiences, and people-centered skill set will provide tremendous value to DU student-athletes and athletics' staff. We look forward to working closely with Josh in the Summit League for many years to come. Denver has made a great hire, and I am excited for Josh and his family to make this transition."

Berlo hired eight coaches across 11 of UMD's 16 sports, with UMD women's hockey coach Maura Crowell being Berlo's most high-profile hire in his nine seasons. Crowell was hired in 2015 after the Bulldogs missed the NCAA tournament in four straight seasons. Crowell brought with her Duluth native and fellow Harvard assistant coach Laura Bellamy, and together they've taken UMD to three NCAA tournaments, including back-to-back NCAA Frozen Fours in 2021 and 2022. The Bulldogs were a win away from claiming a sixth national championship this past season on the campus of Penn State University, falling to Ohio State in the national championship game.

UMD and Amsoil Arena are next in line to host the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four in April 2023.

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UMD athletic director Josh Berlo smiles while speaking about new head softball coach Lynn Anderson at a press conference at Junction Avenue Field Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

"Josh has been a tremendous leader for us at UMD," said Crowell, who was among those in college athletics who were quoted in Denver's announcement on Thursday . "He created a collaborative culture in athletics that has resulted in unprecedented success across many different sports during his tenure. He and I have developed a great partnership over the years. With his support and guidance, the women's hockey program has reached back-to-back NCAA Frozen Fours while also establishing a reputation on campus for academic excellence and positive community involvement."

Prior to hiring Crowell, Berlo notoriously jettisoned UMD’s five-time national championship women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller when her contract expired following her 16th season, announcing the decision midway through the 2014-15 campaign. That set off a five-year legal battle between Miller and the university in federal court that resulted in Miller and her lawyers being awarded $4.53 million in a settlement after a jury in a civil trial found UMD liable for sex discrimination and Title IX retaliation.

Three other female athletic coaches sued the university for discrimination in state and federal court under Berlo’s watch. Former softball coach Jen Banford and women’s basketball coach Annette Wiles were part of Miller’s suits, but had their claims dismissed . Joanna Warmington, the former women’s cross country and track and field coach, also had her claims dismissed in federal court before dropping her state court case .

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LEGAL BATTLES FOR UMD ATHLETICS:
Joanna Warmington had been proceeding in state court on claims of sex discrimination, reprisal and creation of a hostile work environment in the University of Minnesota Duluth's athletic department.
Jen Banford and Annette Wiles claimed they were forced out of the university due to discrimination and a hostile work environment.
Shannon Miller will receive more than $2 million, with the balance going to her attorneys. The university maintains its denial of any wrongdoing.

"It has been a tremendous honor to have worked with Josh Berlo at UMD," UMD Vice Chancellor for Student Life and Dean of Students Lisa Ann Erwin said in Denver's announcement. "His leadership of Bulldog athletics has been stellar, founded on integrity, collaboration and a sincere commitment to student-athletes in and out of the classroom. I have especially appreciated his partnership in advancing Title IX on our campus."

UMD was Berlo’s first athletic director job. A native of Warren, Rhode Island, he was Notre Dame’s senior assistant athletic director of guest relations and event marketing prior to coming to Duluth, having worked in the Fighting Irish athletic department for 13 years.

Including the hockey programs, the Bulldogs have sent 15 of their 16 programs to an NCAA regional or national tournament dating back to Berlo’s first season in 2013-14.

Meanwhile, Romano Gymnasium — home to volleyball and basketball — has undergone a $10 million renovation. Upgrades have also been made to Malosky Stadium, Ward Wells Fieldhouse and the Jamar Athletic Academic Study Center.

Men's college basketball players in white uniforms compete against a team in red uniforms at a college gymansium.
Minnesota Duluth chancellor Lendley Black gives UMD athletic director Josh Berlo a fist bump during a timeout at the Minnesota State-Moorhead Men’s basketball game on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at Romano Gymnasium in Duluth. Chancellor Black was recognized at the game for his service to the university. Black is retiring at the end of the academic year.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The announcement of Berlo’s departure comes on the heels of two other senior UMD athletics staffers announcing their departures. Bulldogs senior associate athletic director Karen Stromme and her husband, UMD senior development officer Gary Holquist, are retiring on June 17 after a combined 75 years with the Bulldogs.

Stromme was the interim athletic director at UMD between the resignation of AD/football coach Bob Nielson and the hiring of Berlo.

UMD chancellor Lendley Black is also retiring this summer, and the search for his replacement is ongoing .

"I am sad for the University of Minnesota Duluth but proud of Josh Berlo as he becomes the next athletic director at the University of Denver," Black said in a statement. "Josh has done an incredible job as UMD's AD over the past nine years. He leaves our athletics programs in great shape with a solid foundation on which to build further. UMD Athletics is on an impressive trajectory of academic and competitive excellence. I thank Josh for his outstanding service to UMD and to the Duluth community. We will miss him."

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This story was updated at 12:33 p.m. on Thursday, June 2, following the official announcement by Denver of Josh Berlo's hiring and it includes statements released by University of Denver. It was originally posted at 10:37 a.m. on Thursday, June 2.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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