PROVO — At the age of 18, Heath Schroyer set a goal to become a Division I head basketball coach.
Schroyer believes his decision this week to leave BYU and coach Steve Cleveland to join the staff at conference-rival Wyoming is a step in that direction.
"It's a good opportunity for me," said Schroyer, 29. "I'm really excited about the new challenge. (Cowboy coach Steve McClain) is one of the top up-and-coming coaches in America. He and the people of Wyoming want to win and win badly. I want to be a part of that. I feel real comfortable there."
Not that Schroyer didn't enjoy his time in Provo. During his four seasons at BYU, the Cougars went from conference doormats to conference champions.
"It's been a great experience, and I have nothing but fond memories," he said. "The four years I spent with coach Cleveland and the other coaches rebuilding the BYU program has been the most rewarding thing I've done in my life."
The most difficult part about the decision was jumping to one of BYU's biggest rivals. "That's a sensitive situation," said the Maryland native. "But coach Cleveland has been supportive. I went through him when I was trying to make the decision. He knows my aspirations. I will forever be indebted to him. He's a mentor, a friend, a father-figure."
As for Cleveland, he now has a void on his staff to fill. He is currently immersed in recruiting efforts and says he hasn't had time to think about how he will replace the intense Schroyer, who became famous in Provo for his shrill voice on the sidelines exhorting Cougar players to fulfill their defensive assignments.
One obvious candidate is Jeff Judkins, who has been BYU's director of basketball operations the past two seasons.
"That would be the logical thing to do, to put him in that spot," Schroyer said. "It wouldn't surprise me if that happened."
Schroyer had been on Wyoming's radar for quite a while. Last year, athletic director Lee Moon went out of his way to get to know him. School officials talked to Schroyer during the Final Four in Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago and eventually offered him a coaching position.
Monday, Schroyer was in Laramie, Wyo., to meet with Cowboy players. It is a group that he already knows well, at least in terms of basketball ability. Schroyer helped the Cougars defeat the Cowboys twice this past season, and BYU eliminated Wyoming from the Mountain West Conference Tournament semifinals in March.
Schroyer's role at Wyoming will be similar to the one he had at BYU. He will oversee the Cowboy defense as well as take on ample recruiting responsibilities. The opportunity to move to "more mainstream recruiting," as opposed to focusing on LDS athletes, played a factor in the decision to leave BYU, Schroyer said.
"Heath is a great addition to our staff," McClain said. "I could not have found a coach who was a better fit or who could bring more to our program than Heath. He has a tremendous knowledge of our league, and that's a great positive. But more importantly, he's bright, energetic and an excellent recruiter and teacher. He's an outstanding young coach. He was very involved in BYU's defensive scheme, and that was extremely attractive to me. He also opens another recruiting area for us because of his ties on the East Coast."
Schroyer knows when his Cowboys face the Cougars next season, it won't be easy. "You'll try to treat it like another game," he said, "but it will be emotional."