If you were to ask anyone who knows Dave Denly, athletic director and head women’s basketball coach, to describe him in one word, some of the answers you might hear are ‘intense,’ ‘focused,’ or ‘passionate.’ And many people probably wouldn’t let you leave until they had been able to tell you about his dedication to his job, his players, and the game of basketball.
“I’ve been involved with basketball since I can remember,” said Denly, “Sports were a part of our family.” Denly played as a child, through junior and senior high, and during his college years. From his sophomore year through his senior year, he played varsity basketball at Wartburg College in Iowa. It was there that he met one of his greatest inspirations, his coach “Buzz” Levick.
“He helped me see, grow up, understand you don’t know everything. You have to sit back and learn from other people. If you learn to listen, you’re going to be able to enhance whatever you’re in,” said Denly.
This is a thought he has carried with him through the years, and it’s crystal clear that enhancement, improvement, and being the best you can be are all at the top of Denly’s to-do list. “My philosophy is predicated on hard work and discipline and trying to do your best every chance you get. You’re going to fail, you’re not always going to be at your best, but you have to strive for it,” he said.
Charles Osen, news bureau coordinator, has known Denly for 11 years and knows just how seriously Denly takes his job as a coach. “His intensity, his focus is tremendous from the tipoff to the end of the game. He coaches for 40 minutes,” said Osen. And immediately after the game and during the bus ride home, Denly is in conversation with his assistants, looking for ways to improve.
Denly doesn’t have a special method or secret potion that gets him “in the zone.” His focus is the result of his desire to be the best. “I don’t hear the crowd. I hear the roar, but I don’t hear specific things. As a coach you have to be thinking 3-4 plays ahead, figuring out the game plan. Those players deserve my best efforts,” he said.
Doubling as the athletic director, Denly’s schedule can be a little hectic sometimes, but that focus is always present on the court. “He’s athletic director, but about 30 minutes before practice, he becomes basketball coach,” said Jeanice Lowry, administrative assistant to the athletic department.
Denly, now Southwestern’s all-time winningest basketball coach, wasn’t always so confident in his coaching. He describes his first years as a coach as volatile, exciting, crazy and humbling. “It was a rollercoaster. I was in way over my head,” he said. “You’re never ready for all the things that come into play. You just have to try to do your best. Acknowledge your own mistakes. The players have to see you as a human and you have to see them. It’s not so much about your successes. It’s how you handle your failures.”
Denly must have handled his failures well. The court isn’t the only place Denly has seen success. Now, as athletic director, he gets to take a special, personal pride in every SC victory. “I think SC has a great athletic tradition. I’m a cheerleader more than anything else. I want to oversee coaches, but I also give them the freedom to coach,” he said.
Even with all of that, Denly’s favorite moments are not on the court or in the office. His best moments are when former athletes show up at the door, come to a game, or call to tell him about something great or something bad that has happened in their life. “That moment makes all the things we do worthwhile. No monetary amount can compensate when someon
e you’ve known is willing to communicate with you years later,” he said.
He’s doing what he loves and has a whole family of college athletes. Add in a supportive wife and a little girl of his own, and Osen said it well. “He’s really complete.”
Erin Morris is a freshman majoring in communication. You may e-mail her at email@example.com.
Edited by Paige Carswell.