For the Ficke family saga, including JoAnn and Bill's love story and the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation, click here    
 
April 21, 2022
 
Dan Ficke comes home.
He's named hoops
coach at MSU Denver    
 
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It's a big day in the Colorado sports community. MSU Denver just made the home-run hire of Dan Ficke as the Roadrunners' new men's basketball coach. 

 
Many of us in Colorado literally saw Dan grow up. He's a Regis Jesuit High and Loyola (Maryland) grad who has made assistant coaching stops at Loyola, Wake Forest and DU and is coming off a successful run as head coach at Division II Belmont Abbey College just outside Charlotte.
 
He's one of the bright young coaches out there. That's even before you get into the fact that his family is so beloved and respected in the Colorado sports community, the Roadrunners' base of support just grew significantly. 

Dan's father, Bill, was a Nuggets assistant coach when I was covering the team. I was entrusted to keep an eye on Bill's Golden Retriever, Gus, at practices. (They still were still open then, defying the Pat Riley-led trend, because Doug Moe groused, "If I have to watch this ^%$#, you do, too.") 
 
Bill transitioned into the restaurant business with Big Bill's New York Pizza, a hangout for local sports and media figures. Bill's beloved wife (and Dan's mother), JoAnn, passed away of cancer in 2007. Dan is president of the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation, which has raised and donated nearly $2 million to Colorado cancer organizations since 2009. 

Dan's coming home.

Good for MSU Denver, which has a rich tradition as a Division II national power but has slid a bit in recent years. The Roadrunners were 10-11 in the RMAC and 16-12 overall last season.
 
Dan and I spoke when at least some of the dust had settled. I started out by noting that he was taking over a Division II program that had won national championships, yet never caught on as a major draw in Denver.

How could he pull that off?

"It's a couple of things," Dan told me. "One is getting back to winning and winning at a high level. That brings people in, gets people excited. But it's recruiting Colorado. Getting local kids from Aurora, from the suburbs, from up north. Those are kids who have gone out to other schools in the RMAC and made those schools successful. We want to keep those kids here, and hopefuly that drives fan interest from the local communities they came from.

"Then additionally, getting more involved in Denver. Whether that's the inner city areas, the surrounding area. Getting involved in reading programs, tutoring programs, free clinics. We want to draw them in, get them back to being fans of the Roadrunners."

During the national power era, the Roadrunners had a brilliant coach -- Mike Dunlop -- who developed a pipeline to older players from Australia with Division I talent.

"You can't close the door to anythhing," Ficke said. "But I want to focus on high school kids. Right now, we're looking at some kids who are transfers who are from Colorado, who maybe left the state and went Division I or Division II somewhere else. Now maybe they want to come back home. But you're going to have to plug in, whether it's international or out of state.

"I think that's one thing that makes me unique, being from Colorado. I have great relationships there, and also now have been around the country as as assistant and head coach and have great relationships there to draw great players to come to Metro." 
          
I've been at Big Bill's for the annual and very informal Coaches for Cancer luncheon, plus seen local coaches pass through other times. Bill Ficke's status in the Colorado hoops community is hard to explain other than saying: He's a legend and everyone knows who he is. Thaat's not hyperbole. Look at the pipctures on the Big Bill's wall sometime.
       
"Its all about the relationships, to continue to grow them and stay in touch with those people," Dan said. "That's something I learned from my dad. He's such a relationship builder. To watch my entire life how he's done that ha schooled me on how to do that. I think there's a lot to sell about Metro, to sell about Denver in general."

Dan pointed out that MSU Denver is evolving and no longer is virtually exclusively a commuter school. The Regency Complex, formerly a hotel, is student housing, as are other complxes adjacent to or on the Auraria campus.   


"It's such a neat environment," Ficke said. "You can draw kids in from around the country to something like that. I love    
Belmont Abbey, but it's small, it's more niche in the types of players you can recruit there. To me, Metro, with its history, its location, the city of Denver, just widens your pool of talent you can draw from."
  
Ficke wanted to make sure all understood he loved his challenging tenure at Belmont Abbey. His move in theory is parallel -- Division II to Division II -- but his Denver connection was the difference-maker. 
 
"To me, it's about coming home, where I can plant my feet and family and raise my family there," he said. "I'm from there. My wife's from there. It was an opportunity I couldn't turn down. It would have taken something special to get me to leave Belmont Abbey. Metro, its history, our family's being from there, it pushed it over the edge. . . I've had tremendous support from people in Colorado at a school in North Carolina they probably never had heard of before because of the relationships. So now, to have a place they can support."    
 
Ficke said the move back will enable him to more efficiently work with the cancer foundation that honors the legacy of his mother, JoAnn
 
"Being the president, but being 2,000 miles away, especially with the last few years and COVID and everything, it's been very hard to be as involved as I was before," Ficke said. "So now, being able to get back and be in the community is good. What the foundation does stays local, stays in Colorado. To continue to do that with my dad, with whaat he's done, and mybe tie it into the program ... I think it enhances my ability to be part of it."    
    
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Dan after Belmont Abbey won the Conference Carolinas
tournament. He's with his dad, Bill; his wife Jordan;
and supporter/advisor Larry Brown. 
 

 
 

 

 

 

Dan's previous stop...

 

Belmont Abbey College: Bill in school's Hall of Fame, Dan successful hoops coach

 

July 20, 2019

Denver's own Dan Ficke

named head hoops coach

at Belmont Abbey

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Dan Ficke at Belmont Abbey 

  

The Ficke family has gone full circle at Belmont Abbey Collegejust west of Charlotte.

 

The Crusaders -- a Division II program playing in the Conference Carolinas -- named Denver's own Dan Ficke, 32, their new head men's basketball coach, succeeding Billy Taylor, who left to become an assistant coach at Iowa.

 

Dan's father, Bill Ficke, proprietor of Big Bill's New York Pizza in Centennial, is an iconic figure in the Colorado sports community -- and beyond. Bill knows everyone and everyone knows Bill. And it's not only because he's a former Nuggets assistant coach. His 9/11 "Day of Giving" at Big Bill's, with free food for voluntary contribiutions to the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation, annually raises six figures for Colorado cancer organizations and his heart is huge.

 

In 2007, JoAnn and Bill's son, Dan, then playing for Loyola (Maryland), delivered his mom's eulogy and there wasn't a dry eye in the church.

 

We felt, and still feel, as if we have watched Dan grow up, including at Regis Jesuit and Loyola and beyond.

 

So now we have all the more reason to be proud.

 

Dan's hiring at Belmont Abbey hire has been in the loop for several weeks, but Dan arrived at Belmont midweek and the official announcement came Thursday. 

 

Before his collegiate career at Loyola, Dan played at Aurora's Regis Jesuit.

 

Most recently, he has been an assistant for four seasons at the University of Denver, under Joe Scott and Rodney Billups.

 

Prior to DU, Dan worked in the programs at Wake Forest and Loyola.

 

Big Bill not only played at Belmont Abbey, he played there under legendary coach Al McGuire, whose first head coaching

job was there from 1957-64. Bill already was ticketed for fall induction into the school's Hall of Fame. 

 

So this is a Ficke family return to the school. 

 

"It's hard to put into words how incredibly blessed I feel to have that opportunity," Dan told me from Belmont on Saturday.

"My dad is probably, outside of my wife, my best friend and he's definitely my role model. I've walked in his very large

footsteps for a very long time. So to be able to go back there to the school where he played and has such great memories of,

it means everything for my first head coaching position to be at the place where he played college basketball. It seems like

a divine intervention to be there."     

 

Bill was ecstatic. 

 

"Next to the day I got married to my wonderful wife, and then when my son was born, and then when I saw him become a

father, I'd have to say it's all right up there," Bill told me. "Whoever thought 57 years later, there'd be a Ficke with the basketball team at Belmont Abbey? . . . The best thing that happened to Dan was his first job was with Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest, and Jeff laid the foundation for his work ethic and knowledge of basketball. He really worked with Dan and helped him grow."

 

Dan also is the president of the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation. The Day of Giving, a salute of 9/11 victims and first responders, predates JoAnn's 2007 death and subsequent formation of the foundation, and has raised $1.2 million overall.      

 

Dan and his wife, Jordan, have 20-month-old twins, William Winslow and Sloane Smith.  

 

Belmont Abbey athletic director Stephen Miss announced Dan's hiring. Dan had interviewed for the job when Taylor was hired in 2016, so he was in the Crusaders' memory bank when the job opened again. 

 

"During what was a thorough and comprehensive national search, Dan Ficke emerged as the right individual at this time to lead Belmont Abbey College's men's basketball program," Miss said. "In addition to having benefited from playing for and working with many exceptional coaches, Coach Ficke articulated repeatedly during the interview process an appreciation of and conviction in our mission that positions him well to form and develop our students as they endeavor individually and

collectively to realize their full potential: body, mind, and soul."

 

The fact that Dan played both high school and college basketball at Catholic schools was a plus for him in the selection process. Dan also can benefit from Bill's and his own connections in the coaching fraternity, and in the recruiting networks. Plus, some of Bill's former teammates are supporters of the program.   

 

"Back in December of January, I can't remember when it was, the president of the university came out and told me they were going to put me in the Belmont Abbey Hall of Fame," Bill said. "That's going to happen on October 12. So I said, 'Great 2019's my year.'"

 

He laughed and added, "Now I've been upstaged by my son."     

 

When Dan was playing at Loyola, his teammates labeled frequent visitor Bill as "Thornton Mellon,'" after the Rodney Dangerfield character in "Back to School." Ever since, I've pictured Bill on the Tonight Show couch, tagging on his tie and lamenting, "I tell 'ya, Johnny, I don't get no respect. No respect at all."

 

On Saturday, Bill joked, "I'm going back to school," then added: "No, I figure about once a month I'll go out and see him and the grandkids. During the season, I'll go when there's two or three games in close proximity and see him coach."

'

UPDATE: Bill indeed was inducted into the Belmont Abbey College Hall of Fame on October 12. Here are pictures from that occasion.  

 

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Alex English, Big Bill, Bobby Jones, Larry Brown, T.R. Dunn 
 
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Jordan Ficke, Big Bill, Dan Ficke 
 
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Big Bill with his Belmont Abbey teammates 
 
 
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Big Bill with Dan and some of the friends to traveled to Belmont to see his induction. Among them are Denver high school coaching legend Bob Caton and Larry Brown.