AHS graduate Jeff Conarroe takes over basketball program at Colorado College

Jeff Conarroe equated being born and raised in Aspen to winning the lottery. And it was his upbringing here he credits to molding his character and paving his career path toward coaching. His father, Dave Conarroe, had a bit to do with it, as well.

“I would say my experience there was shaped more off the court than on the court,” Jeff Conarroe said. “My dad was an excellent coach and I say this with the understanding that I did not respect him as a coach as I should have. I learned from him in retrospect the best coaches are teachers, and he was an amazing teacher and coach.”

Dave Conarroe spent decades as an educator and coach in the Aspen School District, including time as the high school’s boys and girls basketball coach, as well as a stint as the athletic director. Like dad, Jeff Conarroe has that love for coaching in his veins and it’s created many great opportunities for him to make basketball a career.

The next step will be a return to his alma mater, Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where he was recently named the school’s next men’s basketball coach for the NCAA Division III program. For Conarroe, 42, it is his first collegiate head coaching job.

“As a young coach, you always dream of being a head coach at your alma mater,” he said. “For this opportunity to arise at this time, I knew I always wanted to go home to Colorado College. I thought I’d be a good fit there as the head coach. I really identify with the CC ethos, so to speak, and the student-athlete experience there. I really think the athletic experience is a really good extension of the education.”

Conarroe graduated from Aspen High School in 1995, where his father was his basketball coach his final two years. Upon graduating from Colorado College in 1999 with a degree in economics, he had a brief stint as an assistant coach with the Tigers before stepping away from coaching for a few years.

He eventually earned his master’s degree in business administration from the University of Mississippi in 2004, which is where he was connected with his mentor, Rod Barnes. Barnes was the Ole Miss men’s basketball coach at the time, earning Naismith College Coach of the Year honors in 2001. Conoarroe was a graduate assistant for Barnes at Ole Miss from 2003-06, and then served as his director of operations at Georgia State from 2007-2011, when Barnes took over that program.

“He’s just an awesome mentor,” Conarroe said of Barnes. “He’s a program builder. From Day 1, he’s always tried to build me into a head coach and we’ve been really patient with the process. Probably the experience here just solidified all that.”

For the past nine seasons, Conarroe has been with Barnes at California State University in Bakersfield, where they took a program that had only joined the Division I ranks in 2007 and didn’t have a conference and made it into a strong force out west.

The highlight came in 2016, when the Roadrunners won the Western Athletic Conference to earn their first NCAA tournament bid as a No. 15 seed, losing to No. 2 seed Oklahoma in a tightly-contested first-round matchup. The Sooners made the Final Four that year.

“We were really limited as far as resources when we came in,” Conarroe said of helping build the CSU-Bakersfield program with Barnes. “One of the key things in making me ready was the success we had in the 2016 NCAA tournament run and the 2017 NIT Final Four run. Both of those put so much demands on his plate that I think it put me in a position to take on some head coaching responsibilities.”

Conarroe had been an assistant under Barnes in Bakersfield his first eight years there before being named the associate head coach prior to the 2019-20 season. Then, doors opened for his return to Colorado to take over a Tigers’ program that is coming off an 8-16 campaign and hasn’t finished above .500 since 2016.

“It’s an awesome opportunity to build a program that focuses on academic excellence, but it’s very clear there they want to pursue a standard of excellence in every area,” Conarroe said. “So we don’t have to apologize or be in an academic setting like that and then worry about trying to achieve competitive success, too. There is a really clear direction on building a championship culture.”

The best part of his return to Colorado Springs might be his proximity to his roots in Aspen. Both of his parents are retired and still live in town, as does his younger brother, Andy, who played football at Colorado College and was part of Aspen High School’s state championship hockey team in 2007. Dave Conarroe can still be found officiating a game or two.

When Jeff Conarroe was busy recruiting during the summer months for the Roadrunners, his wife — who was a standout athlete at Colorado College — and two sons usually stayed in Aspen. Now only a few hours away as opposed to a few states away, Jeff hopes to make more visits home with the family.

He did, however, make it clear he never plans to coach either of his boys himself.

“I told my kids there is no way I’m ever going to coach them. That was an experience in and of itself. I can fondly look back on muffins being thrown across the table at different times,” Jeff Conarroe joked of playing for his father. “I really think this is a great opportunity because I will get to go home more and re-connect with high school buddies and classmates. Aspen is an amazing place, so it will be cool to come through, for sure.”