A man synonymous with success on both the professional and college levels in the state of Colorado, Jeff Bzdelik enters his third year as the University of Colorado men’s basketball head coach. Named the 17th men’s basketball head coach on April 4, 2007 in school history, Bzdelik continues the foundation of success on and off the court of Buffaloes basketball.
Although his second year at the helm was not a successful one based on victories, Bzdelik (buzz-DEL-ik) and his staff continued onward and upward in numerous and positive steps toward a successful season despite a 9-22 campaign. With one senior and one junior, and core of underclassmen, the Buffaloes youth of freshmen and sophomores attributed for 72.3 percent of the team scoring, marking the highest of any Buffs since the Big 12 began play in 1996-97.
CU’s competitive spirit on a nightly basis saw the Buffs fall short in conference play eight times by single-digits (an average of 5.3 ppg.) and in 11 games overall (an average of 4.6 ppg.). Four of those single-digit setbacks came against 20008-09 NCAA Tournament opponents, Texas (in overtime), at Kansas, at Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
Off the court, CU’s student-athletes made greater strides in the classroom earning the athletic departments most improved honor, as its aggregate G.P.A. rose .318 (to 2.718) over the last two semesters, the largest jump of any CU athletic team since late 1990s.
During his first season on the Boulder campus, Bzdelik and his staff saw a mix of positives and negatives in their 12-20 campaign. CU remained competitive despite its lack of depth losing nine games by an average of 4.8 points. The defense allowed opponents an average of 64.4 points per game, its lowest in 46 years, while committing 13.4 turnovers a game – another school-low in 28 years.
Bzdelik, 56, came to Colorado from the United States Air Force Academy, where he guided the Falcons to a 50-16 record (a 75.8 winning percentage) in two seasons from 2005-07. During those two seasons he led the Falcons to a 2005-06 NCAA Tournament and a 2006-07 NIT Final Four appearance.
Bzdelik brings 31 years of coaching experience to the Boulder campus from the collegiate to the professional ranks. He returned to the college game in 2005-06 after 15 seasons as both a coach and scout in the NBA, including two-and-a-half seasons as head coach of the Denver Nuggets.
His two-year win total of 50 victories at the Academy was a school-best in any two-year span of the 51-year history of Air Force basketball, while his 26 victories in 2006-07 was also a school high. He’s the only coach to have won at least 24 games in back-to-back seasons. Bzdelik guided the Falcons to a 31-1 home record, including a 15-0 mark in 2005-06 and 16-1 in 2006-07.
In 2005-06, Bzdelik led the Falcons to a 24-7 record and the school’s fourth appearance ever in the NCAA Tournament. He also led the Falcons to a 12-4 record and second place finish in the Mountain West Conference. Air Force also capped the season leading the nation for the fourth consecutive season in scoring defense.
“Jeff symbolizes all the essential leadership qualities that are important to successfully direct the Buff basketball program and represent the University of Colorado with class and distinction,” Bohn said. “His high level of professionalism, competitive spirit, work ethic and integrity makes him the perfect choice for our world class institution.”
“With the hiring of Jeff Bzdelik, the University of Colorado at Boulder has made a strong statement about our values as well as our athletic aspirations,” said then-CU Chancellor Bud Peterson (2006-09). “Coach Bzdelik’s experience, commitment to excellence, concern for his players as scholar-athletes, along with his intensity and attention to detail, are a perfect fit for the type of environment we are creating here at CU.”
Prior to returning to the college ranks with the Air Force Academy, Bzdelik was the Denver Nuggets head coach for two-and-a-half seasons (2002-2005). He was named head coach in August of 2002 after spending one year as a scout for the Nuggets. Bzdelik engineered one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history during his second season in 2003-04, leading the Nuggets to the playoffs for the first time since 1994-95 while posting a 43-39 record. The 26-game improvement over the previous year was the sixth-best in NBA history.
Bzdelik also became the first coach in league history (since the adoption of an 82-game schedule) to guide a team to the playoffs the year after winning less than 20 games. In his first season, Bzdelik earned NBA-wide praise for Denver’s competitiveness, work ethic and never-give-up attitude. Despite having the youngest team in franchise history, Bzdelik’s team shattered the franchise record for scoring defense by more than five points per game, giving up only 92.4 per outing. In addition, the Nuggets led the league in turnovers forced (17.1 per game) and had six of the top 12 marks for single-season scoring defense.
Surprisingly to many, he was let go by the Nuggets after just 28 games into the 2004-05 season, with the team off to a 13-15 start. But that decision would eventually become Air Force’s and now Colorado’s gain.
From 1995-2001, Bzdelik was an assistant coach under Pat Riley in Miami, holding the title of Assistant Coach/Director of Scouting during the final two years. With the Heat, he was responsible for the preparation of all game plans, video coordination and statistical data as well as player development.
In 2000, he was recognized by The USA Today as one of the NBA’s top five assistant coaches. In the 1998 Pro Basketball issue of Sports Illustrated, he was voted as the NBA’s best advance scout by league general managers.
Prior to his tenure with the Heat, Bzdelik spent the 1994-95 season as the lead scout for Riley and the New York Knicks. He also served as an assistant coach with the Washington Bullets from 1988-94 and was Wes Unseld’s first assistant in 1993-94. In addition, he coached the Bullets summer league team in 1988 and 1994.
The Illinois native began his coaching career in 1978 at Davidson (N.C.) College. In 1980, he was named an assistant coach at Northwestern University where he spent six seasons and was instrumental in the Wildcats’ first NIT appearance in school history.
He then accepted his first head coaching position at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, one he would handle for two years before moving on to the NBA.
During the 1986-87 season at UMBC, his squad was cited by The Sporting News as having “One of College’s Biggest Turnarounds,” in the school’s inaugural season in Division I. After going just 11-44 the previous two seasons as a Division II program before Bzdelik’s arrival, UMBC went 12-16 in his first year and 13-15 in 1987-88 in Division I. His teams excelled in the classroom as well, posting a 2.86 grade point average during his tenure.
Bzdelik is a 1976 graduate of the University of Illinois-Chicago, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education. He earned four varsity letters in basketball at UIC and was named team MVP as a senior in 1975-76. He still holds the school record for the best free-throw percentage in one season, shooting 88.1 percent (59-for-67) from the line in 1975-76 and still ranks among UIC’s all-time leading scorers.
Bzdelik also spent six years in the Army National Guard during the early to mid 1970s.
In June 2008, Bzdelik was one of six coaches invited by the USO (United Service Organizations) to visit and experience the Persian Gulf called “Operation Hoop Talk: Talking Hoops with the Troops.”
During the tour, Bzdelik and the coaches visited Bethesda and Walter Reed Hospitals in Washington, D.C., visiting wounded military personnel and toured multiple military posts in Kuwait City and Iraq. The coaches also posed for photos, signed autographs and spent quality time talking with military about the game of basketball, in addition helping boost troop morale bringing a touch of home to those in uniform.
“It keeps things in perspective,” said Bzdelik on how the experience affected him. “As a coach you are in awe of the collective will, of sacrificing the individual for the collective good, of unselfishness, and dedication. And the military is the best example of this. I want to rally this message to my team, and hopefully that will help them grow. I would go back tomorrow. There is special spirit there that engulfs one, and you just feel it, and want to be around it.”
Bzdelik was born December 1, 1952 and graduated from Prospect High School in Mount Prospect, Ill. He is married to the former Nina Bernardzik, who was a standout volleyball player at UIC from 1974-76 and is a member of the Flames’ Athletic Hall of Fame. They are the parents of two children, Brett (20) and Courtney (18).