How three gyms produced a gem — Hall of Fame BYU basketball coach Dave Rose
Former Cougars basketball coach will be among the Utah Sports Hall of Fame inductees honored next Monday. Here’s what helped get him there.
Editor’s note: First in a two-part series on former BYU basketball coach Dave Rose.
Dave Rose has walked into hundreds of gyms, but none were bigger to his coaching career than three spots in Utah — a small-town auxiliary gym, Burns Arena and the Marriott Center. The facilities couldn’t be more different, but each played a similar role in polishing Rose into a basketball gem that will shine perfectly as a new member of the Utah Sports Hall of Fame next week.
As important as location is to real estate, Rose’s stopovers in Millard, St. George and Provo proved to be just as valuable.
Millard Auxiliary Gym (2,000 capacity)
“I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into,” remembers Rose as he arrived in Fillmore, Utah, in 1983, just a few months removed from playing in the NCAA national championship game for Houston. Rose pulled into Fillmore, not completely sure of what awaited him. His first coaching job was at Millard High School.
“I was pretty surprised at just how small it was and how everybody knew everybody and knew everything about everybody,” Rose recalled. “Before I got to the school, I stopped at a gas station and the grocery store, and everybody knew I was coming to be the coach and they all had their suggestions ready for me.”
The scene wasn’t too different from the movie “Hoosiers” when Norman Dale rolled into the fictitious town of Hickory, Indiana. Only for Rose, this was real, including the expectations to beat rival Delta for bragging rights to Millard County.
“I played in bigger games that meant more, but I hadn’t played in any bigger games that meant more to the fans who came to watch us,” Rose said. “When you get the grandparents and parents in the stands that played in that game, and you have their kids playing in that game, and a generation coming that can’t wait to play in that game — boy, I learned something about rivalries from that for sure.”
Millard beat Delta 72-70 in his debut season. Rose also learned about multitasking. In addition to basketball coach at Millard, he was an assistant football coach, assistant track coach and head baseball coach. He also had a friend in the media.
“Jim Nantz was hired at KSL when I got the job at Millard,” said Rose, who befriended Nantz during his time in Texas and is where Jim hosted the “Guy Lewis Show” for the Houston Cougars. “During that first year he came down and did a story on me about going from the Final Four to coaching at Millard High School.”
Nantz joined CBS Sports two years later in 1985 and has been a fixture at the network ever since.
“So, I brought Jim Nantz to Fillmore to check it out,” Rose said. “I thought that was pretty cool.”
Burns Arena (5,000 capacity)
Rose left Millard in 1986 for a job in St. George as an assistant basketball coach at Pine View High. His main responsibility was the freshman team.
Dixie College’s Burns Arena was brand new and its very first sporting event featured a high school clash that included Pine View. The freshmen game went first at 3:30 p.m.
“We arrived at the arena and the custodian was so adamant that there wouldn’t be any hard-soled shoes on the court,” Rose said. “So, I’m coaching the first quarter and the second quarter in my suit and socks. Those were his rules. Our head coach talked to him at halftime and promised we wouldn’t step out onto the floor, so I got to put my shoes on for the second half.”
Rose became a regular at Burns Arena the following year when he joined the Dixie College staff as an assistant. He was named the head coach in 1990 and won 197 games — all with his shoes on. Rose was inducted into the Dixie State Hall of Fame in 2013.
Among his favorite memories is a unique battle with rival Utah Valley when Burns Arena lost power in the second half.
“We waited and waited and couldn’t get the power back on,” Rose said. “So, Utah Valley got on the bus and drove back to Orem, and we figured the game wouldn’t count and we’d go on from there.”
As the season played out, however, the would-be outcome of the game became more important to determine the seedings for the conference tournament.
“The ruling from the conference was that they were going to come back to St. George, and we were going to finish the game with 12 minutes remaining,” Rose said. “We were down double digits, but we found a way to get it turned around and won the game.”
For Rose, it was a significant victory that was literally months in the making.
Marriott Center (22,700 capacity)
Rose left Dixie College, now Utah Tech, to join Steve Cleveland’s new staff at BYU in 1997 and together they walked into the cavernous Marriott Center after inheriting a program that went 1-25 the year before.
“We were so focused on trying to recruit the type of players we needed to turn that thing around,” Rose said. “Steve was dialed in on the Xs and Os of coaching. I was focused on traveling around the country to find the guys. We managed to beat UTEP and New Mexico on the road at the end of the season to qualify for the WAC Tournament. We felt like we had jump-started ourselves.”
Rose succeeded Cleveland in 2005 and won 348 games. He is No. 2 all time in victories at BYU behind Hall of Fame head coach Stan Watts’ 371. Coincidentally, Watts also coached at Millard High and Dixie before arriving in Provo.
“For the later years, anytime you could beat Gonzaga in there, those were memorable,” Rose said. “Before that, there was the Jimmer year (2011). It was so big. Being able to beat (No. 4) San Diego State at home (71-58) and since then, with the history of Jimmer and his success and Kawhi Leonard and his NBA success, and the relationship coach (Steve) Fisher and I have continued to have over the years. That game was really big for us.”
Loyola-Marymount upset BYU at the Marriott Center in Rose’s head coaching debut in 2005. The coach greeted the team with a spirited practice the following day. He wanted his guys to understand that losing at home was unacceptable. The Cougars responded by winning the next 53 games at the Marriott Center. It was the nation’s longest home-court winning streak until No. 6 Wake Forest snapped it in 2009.
“I was so appreciative to the fans for coming to our games and then it immediately became a pit in my stomach to figure out how to win the game for them,” Rose said. “The whole week, the pressure is on you and your guys, and you feel it. But, when I got to the game and walked into the arena, the feeling never changed, it was ‘OK big fella, these people came to not just see the game, they came to see us win.’
“I wished I could have handled that better in my mind. When I go to the games now, I want BYU to win, but I go to watch the game, the competition. But all I could think of when I was coaching was these people came for one reason, and I had to make sure we won.”
Rose announced his retirement on the floor of the Marriott Center on March 26, 2019 — his third home floor in 36 years of head coaching. With the polishing complete, this gem from the gym is ready for enshrinement in the Utah Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s been one challenge after another. My body is operating with the fewest things it can have to still be operating,” said Rose, who will turn 66 in December. “My last surgery was 20 months ago. I’m on a roll right now and feel pretty good.”
Still claiming he has never worked a real job in his life, the ups and downs of winning and losing, along with the serious health fluctuations, have softened him. Rose has been seasoned by the seasons.
“I have an unbelievable appreciation for my wife (Cheryl) and what she put up with,” he said. “She helped us so much with so many different things, including the players and their wives and our family. My kids didn’t have a normal life. When you are the coach, it doesn’t matter if you are at Millard High, Dixie College or BYU, their life was always on stage and that’s a tough thing to do. I just have so much gratitude for their support.”
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.