Facebook Twitter

BYU players are sorry to see Tony Ingle go

SHARE BYU players are sorry to see Tony Ingle go

The three BYU basketball players who sat in on Tuesday's press conference experienced a serious case of mixed emotions as athletic director Rondo Fehlberg officially announced the hiring of Steve Cleveland. After all, their new coach was a man they had never heard of. Before Tuesday, Cleveland was just a city located in Ohio. Suddenly they realized that Cleveland would be the architect of the future of Cougar hoops.

On one hand, they were becoming familiar with him, lapping up his exuberant words and basking in his dynamic personality.On the other, they ached for Tony Ingle, the interim coach and father figure they had played for under the most trying of circumstances. Ingle, an eight-year BYU assistant, took over the 1-6 team for Roger Reid on Dec. 17.

The Cougars went on to post the worst season in BYU basketball history. But there was no mutiny on this bounty. On the contrary, many players grew to adore Ingle and hoped he would be the one coaching them for years to come.

"My first impression is a good one. I am impressed," said guard Lance Archibald of Cleveland. "I think he will do good things here." Then Archibald's mood changed as he talked about Ingle: "I feel bad for him. He did so much for us. He's been like family."

The two other players, freshmen Eric Nielsen and Scott Sonnenberg, who plan on leaving for LDS Church missions this summer, won't play for Cleveland for at least 21/2 years. Since neither knew much about their new coach, their thoughts turned to Ingle.

"I'm excited about the future," said Sonnenberg. "But I'm sad to see Coach Ingle leave."

"I love the guy to death," said Nielsen of Ingle. "I've learned more in this year than any other year in my life. He changed my life. I can't ever repay him for what he has done for me."

After learning of Cleveland's hiring Tuesday morning, Nielsen went to Ingle's office. What he found was an empty room. "He wasn't there. And all his stuff was gone," said Nielsen. "It was strange."

Meanwhile, Cougar forward Justin Weidauer, who will be a senior next season, was at a fast food drive-thru when he found out the news. "Hey, what do you think about your new coach?" asked a cashier, who recognized the BYU player.

Weidauer's reply: "What new coach?" While supportive of the BYU administration's decision, Weidauer isn't hiding the fact he would have preferred Ingle on the sidelines next year. "I think BYU should have named a head coach (Ingle) three months ago," he said. "I still feel strongly Coach Ingle was the most qualified. I'm disappointed. Tony Ingle is the reason I came to BYU. I just wish we could have won some games for him.

"Before this year, I had never experienced a coaching change," he continued. "It's been like a roller-coaster ride. I don't know how much I can endure."

Ingle, too, will have to endure. He learned his fate in a meeting Monday evening with President Merrill J. Bateman and Fehlberg. Devastated, Ingle cleared out his office that night.

Attempts by the Deseret News to reach Ingle on Tuesday were unsuccessful. Ingle is out of town with his family.

Assistant coach Russ Zaugg was in the BYU basketball office Tuesday, unsure of his situation. He may, or may not, be retained on the Cougar coaching staff.

Ingle had called to tell Zaugg the news Monday night. "All he really said was, `It's a new coach, and it's not me,' " said Zaugg. "We've been through so much the past few months. There are no words to express how we feel. We couldn't have worked any harder this season if we knew the job was his back in December."

The Cougars, who will return just a handful of players for the 1997-98 season as seven freshmen are expected to depart for missions this summer, hope for a clean slate next year.

"Starting over is something we're going to have to do," said Archibald. "Losing is contagious. We've got to get a winning attitude, to feel like we can win. I wouldn't come back to BYU if I didn't think we could turn it around."

Cleveland spent the day being whisked from function to function, and being introduced to legions of new faces. In the afternoon, he met with current Cougar players for about 20 minutes. "It was real positive," said Weidauer. "I have a good feeling about him. He will be a great coach and we'll be successful under him."

So what will happen to Ingle? Fehlberg said the former interim coach felt he didn't receive a fair chance at winning the job. "This is as tough a day as he's had in his life," said Fehlberg. "It's a tough situation. How can you thank someone for doing something no one else could have done? Tony loves this school and these kids. He's a class guy."

"He's going to make the best of this situation," said Zaugg. "He'll bounce back." The question is, where? For now, Ingle is still an employee of BYU, as is the case with Reid.

Ingle's contract runs through August. Fehlberg said he hasn't discussed such details with Ingle at this point, but added he is welcome to remain at BYU. "If he wants to stay in the department, he can stay in the department," Fehlberg said. It's more than likely Ingle wants to continue coaching and he will leave when a sensible offer presents itself.

Ingle won many supporters while at the Cougar helm, although the harsh truth is he owns a 0-19 Div. I record. Fehlberg maintains that Ingle is far better off having had Div. I head coaching experience and that BYU will have nothing but good things to say to any prospective employers who look into hiring Ingle.