clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Cleveland era begins in Provo

Roger Reid was persistent.

Although he had to get his Brigham Young University basketball team ready to play Jerry Tarkanian's Fresno State Bulldogs, he wanted his boss, Athletic Director Rondo Fehlberg, to meet this bright community college basketball coach.Fehlberg already had his day planner packed with meetings.

But Reid set up another one in Fresno on that February day of a year ago.

With the coach who would replace him.

Reid had almost hired Fresno City College coach Steve Cleveland as an assistant coach several years before - choosing to bring Lynn Archibald on board instead.

He had been impressed with Cleveland's style and zest for the game and stayed in touch.

During the turmoil of the past couple of months, so did Fehlberg.

How ironic that on Tuesday Fehlberg would utter these words to end the saga that began with Reid's firing in December: "The guy who put me on to Steve Cleveland was Roger Reid."

Here's how Cleveland came to Provo:

He was one of many coaches asked to submit information to BYU's search committee.

At each stage of the selection process, his stock rose. The fact that he was a Mormon meant that he had an edge in that he already believed in the ideals and values fostered at BYU.

As he worked his way onto BYU's short list, he received more attention. BYU dispatched R.J. Snow, the administrator over athletics, to visit with Cleveland and his family in Fresno. Snow attended a basketball game ("We didn't do very well," Cleveland lamented) and was obviously impressed.

BYU officials were also impressed with the other candidates on the short list and Fehlberg said he was confident all of them would have done well but that "Steve was the best on the list.

"He is a man who we think possesses the qualities required to restore BYU basketball to its position of prominence and to take us to new heights," Fehlberg added.

A BOLD MOVE

Hiring a junior college coach with no Division I experience was a surprising development. Cleveland was not considered a serious candidate by the media, who instead focused on bigger names like Utah assistant Jeff Judkins, former UCLA coach Jim Harrick, BYU-Hawaii coach Ken Wagner, San Diego State coach Ken Trenkle, interim coach Tony Ingle and even former BYU football player Gifford Nielsen.

You get the feeling that President Merrill J. Bateman, Snow and Fehlberg relish a challenge and that they feel they've pulled a coup in getting a relatively unknown Juco coach to take the team to the next level.

This hiring is huge. Football and basketball are what make BYU's athletic world go round. Any chance of leaving the WAC for a better conference has to include a successful football and basketball program.

The next significant hiring will be the replacement of football coach LaVell Edwards.

While the hiring is obviously important to Cleveland, it's even more so to Fehlberg. This is his stamp, just as the hiring of Ron McBride and Rick Majerus have become Chris Hill's stamp at

Utah.

BYU isn't exactly going into unchartered territory. Other coaches who have gone straight from the JC ranks to Division I coaching positions include Tarkanian, Lute Olsen, Nolan Richardson and Denny Crum.

Cleveland's team is ranked No. 1 in California and is one of eight teams remaining in the state tournament, having compiled a 30-3 record. The spread between points scored and points allowed is a staggering 27 points. His squad averages 92 points a game while allowing just 65.

CONTRACT TERMS ARE. . .

They haven't been determined, Fehlberg said Tuesday.

It may be that the days of the one-year handshake agreements are over though. BYU football coach LaVell Edwards recently got a multi-year deal. Fehlberg did indicate that "times are changing." He said that Cleveland would be offered some security but at the same time would be kept "on the cutting edge of uncomfortableness."

Cleveland simply said, "We need to address that (contract) before we go back to Fresno" (which he did late last night).

WHO IS THIS GUY?

Whoever he is, he's impressive.

He was forthright and cordial during two separate press conferences Tuesday. It's doubtful there will be any public relations nightmares with Cleveland.

He comes from an athletic family. His father played baseball for Rod Dedeaux at the University of Southern California and was CIF Player of the Year while in high school in California.

He was quite an athlete himself, being all-league and All-Northern California in baseball in high school and being a standout basketball player at Fresno City College and at the University of California-Irvine, where he was named All-West Coast as a senior.

Perhaps just as important for BYU are his spiritual roots. Those who know him say they run deep.

"BYU really made a great choice. The years will bear Steve Cleveland out in eyes of church members and faculty," Stephen Christensen told the Deseret News Tuesday night.

Christensen is the father of McKay Christensen, an all-everything high school athlete out of Northern California who was heavily recruited by BYU and then selected in the first round of the baseball draft by the California Angels, even though he made it known he was going to serve an LDS Church mission (he recently returned). Stephen Christensen was Cleveland's stake president for five years while Cleveland served on the high council in Fresno.

"I was very impressed with Steve and Kip and their family. When he served on the high council we really enjoyed the perspective he brought. He's very spiritual. He's very committed to church. He also brings a lot of common sense. He deals with a lot of inter-city kids. Everything he does is tempered by his gospel perspective."

Christensen's brother, LaVar, who lives in Draper, also served in the same stake with Cleveland from 1983 to 1988 while Cleveland was in a bishopric.

"He's admired as much spiritually as he is athletically," LaVar Christensen said. "He's great with the youth . . . in my mind I'd say this is the equivalent of LaVell Edwards."

Fresno Bee college basketball writer Andy Katz believes Cleveland is an excellent hire for BYU.

"I've had a lot of dealings with him and he's a class individual . . . He definitely can coach."

HOW TO TURN IT AROUND

No secret here on how to go from the worst season in school history (1-25) to 20-plus win seasons. It's called recruiting.

To get to the next level BYU needs to get the next level of players, Cleveland basically said Tuesday.

He can't address that issue or who he's going to hire as his assistant coaches until he completes the state tournament with Fresno City College.

His junior college experience has enabled him to work with a diverse group of players. He has worked with a lot of African American players and there will likely more of those at BYU than in the past as well as more junior college players than in the past.

Cleveland wants to have a mix of high school and junior college recruits worked around the mission program so that he always is able to field a representative team.

Those he recruits will share BYU's values.

"We're going to recruit the best LDS players in the world and the best non-members in the world who share the same values," he said.

One of his assistant coaches will likely have close ties to the Utah high school scene, he said.

He also plans on utilizing former BYU players in recruiting.

"We can re-establish this tradition. You know it and I know it," he confidently stated.

Rondo Fehlberg is banking BYU's future on it.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

On the inside

Brighton high standout Jon Carlisle wants to talk to Cleveland before he decides where he'll go to college - D3.

Current players feel for interim coach Tony Ingle but are looking forward to a fresh start - D4.