How a late-night impression transformed BYU basketball
Those who know former BYU basketball coach Dave Rose best share their thoughts on the longtime Cougars coach prior to his induction into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame.
Editor’s note: Second in a two-part series on former BYU basketball coach Dave Rose.
During a late-night drive in the middle of Kansas, Steve Cleveland received an impression that turned into a game-changer for BYU basketball.
As the new head coach of the Cougars from Fresno City College, Cleveland inherited a program that was two feet below rock bottom. BYU had just finished the 1996-1997 season with the worst record in school history (1-25) and he needed someone with whom to build it back.
“I had an impression that I should call Dave Rose,” Cleveland said. “I didn’t know him. We had only met a year earlier at a basketball tournament.”
Rose was a successful head coach at Dixie State in St. George. The only connection they shared was Rose’s assistant coach John Wardenburg, who was a friend of Cleveland’s.
“So, it’s probably 10 p.m. and I called Dave and he thought I was trying to get ahold of John. I said, ‘No, I just want to introduce myself to you. I’m in a situation here where I’m trying to put a staff together. I’d like an opportunity to talk to you.’”
Cleveland and Rose met the following day over a long lunch in Salt Lake City and within days, the deal was done. The two former junior college coaches were stepping up together to Division I basketball.
“Both coming from junior college, there is nothing we hadn’t seen. We knew what it would take but neither one of us had any idea how difficult this job would be for the first couple of years,” Cleveland said. “Neither one of us was really prepared for it, but we understood it was something we could do. It just felt right. One thing we both could do is recruit and that is where the commonality was.”
Cleveland’s staff of Rose and Heath Shroyer pulled a roster together and stunned the Western Athletic Conference by upsetting New Mexico and UTEP during the final week of the regular season to qualify for the conference tournament.
Three years later, BYU won the WAC regular-season title and the conference tournament and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. Cleveland won 138 games with Rose at his side.
“We got (the program) to a level where it had been before, and in my gut and my mind as we were finishing, I had the same impression I had years before. Dave was the right guy for the job,” said Cleveland, who left BYU to become head coach at Fresno State in 2005.
Rose took the reins in Provo and won 348 games over the next 14 seasons — No. 2 all time at BYU behind Hall of Fame coach Stan Watts. Rose will join Watts in the Utah Sports Hall of Fame during induction ceremonies on Sept. 18. It will be the culmination of a career, started by a late-night phone call from somewhere in Kansas.
“I will never forget the impression I had on that drive that night. It was pretty strong,” Cleveland said. “It was a great experience with Dave during the rebuild, but what was most impressive was watching him take the program to another level. Dave is a Hall of Fame guy. Nobody does the things he’s done, and he’ll be the first to tell you, without having great people around you, including his wife Cheryl.”
Rose will be inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame on Monday at the Little America in Salt Lake City. The 2023 class includes skiers Stein Eriksen and Ted Ligety, fencer Julie Thompson Seal and sportswriter Tom Wharton.
Here are reactions to Rose’s Hall of Fame induction from some of the “great people” around him during his 1997-2018 career at BYU.
Pope was an assistant under Rose from 2011-2015 before leaving for the head job at Utah Valley. He returned to succeed Rose as head coach at BYU in 2019.
“There is nobody who has ever done it better in so many different ways. Coach not only galvanized the BYU fanbase with some incredible teams and incredible runs and some of the greatest players to don a BYU jersey, but he also did it with class and kindness and humility.
“On a personal level, there are no words for the gratitude I have for him for the mentor he has been to me, and I think all of Cougar Nation will be grateful to him forever. The fact that he got this (Marriott Center Annex) built here at BYU the way he did it, none of us can comprehend how challenging that is and it’s one of a million different little pieces of the legacy he left here.
“I say this with the utmost respect for what coach accomplished as a coach, he’s a better person than he is a coach and that’s hard to do when you are as good of a coach as he is.”
Rice was an assistant coach and associate head coach from 2005-2011. He left BYU to become head coach at UNLV. Today he is the head coach at Cal-Baptist.
“Coach Rose is an amazing leader. I have always said he hired knowledgeable coaches and empowered them to do their jobs and yet there was never a doubt it was his program with his identity.
“There is a strong history of basketball tradition at BYU and during his time as head coach and associate head coach Dave arguably shaped and oversaw the greatest era of Cougar basketball. He won NCAA Tournament games, conference regular-season titles, produced NBA and professional players, as well as college head coaches, and recruited at a high level.
“During his time at BYU, the men’s basketball program was nationally relevant and played an exciting brand of basketball. Dave Rose is a fantastic coach and loyal mentor and friend.”
Lacomb served as director of basketball operations and assistant coach between 2007-2018. He currently works as a Utah Jazz broadcaster, singer and businessman.
“I am so blessed to have literally had a seat at Dave Rose’s table. The most honest thing I can say about coach Rose is that his words meant something to him. If he committed to something, he did it 100% of the time. I think his attacking offensive style was way before its time — early 3’s in transition, impeccable ball movement and always inside out.”
Lewis was an assistant coach between 2015-2018. Prior to the BYU job, he won a national title and seven state championships as head coach at Lone Peak High School. Currently, Lewis is head coach at Lehi High School, where he added an eighth state championship in 2022.
“I played for coach in his first season as a head coach (Dixie College, 1989-91) and coached with him during his last — his record and accomplishments speak for themselves, but really his impact on the State goes much deeper — because of his experience with Houston Phi Slama Jama and future Hall of Fame players (Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon) he was able to open doors and build relationships with people outside of the state that simply would not have happened without him.
“His impact on the state has been unique and very significant in ways people maybe don’t understand. People just like Dave Rose — he’s personable, humble and a fierce competitor all wrapped up in one hugely successful guy.”
Wardenburg was an assistant for Rose at Dixie State College (1993-1997) and at BYU (2001-2010). He is currently an assistant coach for the BYU women’s basketball program.
“At Dixie, coach ran a high school team camp that was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, in the state. It was a must-go destination for teams during the month of June. Thousands of players, I’m sure, have worn a ‘Dave Rose Basketball Team Camp’ T-shirt with the Pizza Factory logo on the back.
“Coach is one of the many faces on my personal basketball Mount Rushmore. He is a mentor, a great friend and confidant, and most importantly, he is a great example of how to battle through adversity. I will forever be grateful to Dave for giving me the opportunity to coach with him at Dixie and BYU. It was a privilege to help him coach those teams. He deserves every Hall of Fame honor available to him.”
Schroyer was an assistant coach with Rose (1997-2001) and an assistant coach for Rose (2017-2018) before leaving for the head coaching job at McNeese. Today, Schroyer is the athletic director at McNeese.
“Dave is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever known and simply a winner in every way. Dave had no ego. He talked about three things every day: He wanted his players to have a great experience, he wanted to win, and he wanted to win with class. He accomplished all three at the highest level. He is simply the greatest basketball coach in BYU history and a man I’m proud to call a friend. Congratulations Dave, I couldn’t be happier for you!”
Cummard played for Rose between 2005-2009 and was named Mountain West Conference Player of the Year in 2008. He worked as a graduate assistant (2016-2018) and as an assistant coach (2018-2019). He is currently an assistant coach for the BYU women’s basketball program.
“Coach Rose had a huge impact on basketball in Utah. Stockton and Malone had retired; the Majerus era was over at Utah and the next big thing was Dave Rose and BYU basketball. I was as confident as a player could be and he had the ability to make me, and especially the team, believe we could achieve more than we thought.
“Another thing I picked up from him, and I got to observe this when I coached with him, but I was shocked at how much he thought about his players. He thought deeply about his guys and how he could help them help the team and motivate them to play for something bigger than themselves.”
Fredette played for Rose between 2007-2011 and scored 2,599 career points. He was named college basketball’s National Player of the Year in 2011 and was selected as the 10th overall pick in the NBA draft. He is currently competing for a spot on the U.S. 3x3 Olympic basketball team.
“Coach Rose and his wife Cheryl are two of the best people I know. When I committed to BYU, I knew that I was going to play for a coach that was going to challenge me, but also care for who I was as a person and basketball player. He knew how to get the best out of his players. He was a fiery competitor which made his teams tough and ready to compete every night.
“Coach is the best coach I have ever played for, and he got the best out of me and our team. I owe a lot of my development to coach and his amazing staff he assembled during my years. They made our time at BYU unforgettable, and we will always love him for that. Congrats coach! No one deserves it more!”
As the radio voice of the Cougars on BYURadio, Wrubell called almost all of Rose’s 483 games as head coach at BYU between 2005-2019.
“Dave Rose was as steady as a metronome. From his BYU teams’ yearly 20-win seasons to his consistent demeanor with players and the press, coach Rose was a rock. He confronted health issues with trademark toughness and his teams mirrored that toughness on the floor.”
A longtime basketball analyst for BYUtv, Fowler was on the broadcast during Rose’s first game in 2005 and his last at the WCC Tournament in 2019.
“As impressive as his win-loss record, it pales in comparison to the impact he has had on young men’s lives. He approached every new season as an opportunity to make the young men entrusted to him to become better people. As they followed his example, they became great husbands, fathers, and contributors to society. To me, this is as much a part of his legacy as all those wins.”
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.