When it comes to finding the right basketball coach at BYU, it takes one to know one. Former Cougar coach Steve Cleveland knows most of those in the pool that are vying to replace Mark Pope in Provo.

“This program is in great shape administratively and collectively as a community,” Cleveland told the “Y’s Guys” podcast. “Now, this is a challenge. You can’t sleep on it. You have to jump right into this and get your guy.”

Cleveland believes among the working list of candidates that each one brings something to the table that is unique to their respective coaching styles.

“He’s such a good fit here. He is such a good fit. He happens to be a good friend of mine so there is a bias to that guy, but at the end of the day, I’m looking at this list and he makes the most sense to me.”

—  Steve Cleveland on Chris Burgess

Chris Burgess (Utah assistant coach): “I think Chris is the most prepared with a lifetime of basketball and where he has played and the impact he has had and what he has done, and the players loved him at BYU. He’s such a good fit here. He is such a good fit. He happens to be a good friend of mine so there is a bias to that guy, but at the end of the day, I’m looking at this list and he makes the most sense to me.”

Barret Peery (UNLV assistant coach): “A seasoned coach, junior college, Division I head coach, he is at UNLV. He has recruited the whole country. There is no rock that has gone unturned with him. He has been in the depths of recruiting like nobody. When I think of Barret Peery, I think of a guy that has a relentless pursuit of being the best he can be and helping a team. You can trust Barret Peery.”

Nick Robinson (BYU assistant coach): “He is someone that has been an assistant. He has really been good with the players. I don’t know how that plays out. I’ve had a couple of conversations with Nick. He is in the mix like everybody else, but having someone that is connected to the guys is really important.”

Cody Fueger (BYU assistant coach): “Cody is really good. Mark trusts him. I would be shocked if Cody is not going with him as his associate head coach. Cody is a huge piece in the success they have had.”

Quincy Lewis (Lehi head coach): “If I had a son or grandson and if there was one high school coach I had to pick, it would be Quincy. I want my kids to play for Quincy. Anybody that thinks that because he is a high school (coach) that he doesn’t have the knowledge, depth, or ability to coach or teach, they don’t know anything about the game. Quincy Lewis could be on any staff at any university in the country and make a contribution.”

Kevin Young (Phoenix Suns associate head coach): “He is somebody that most people don’t know because he is in the league. I have never met Kevin. I know some people who know him and think highly of him. I’m sure he would be a great head coach at the college level. I will say this, there will be a transition. He would have to get used to it, but no more than I had to get used to it. He is so connected and that is something coaches sell to recruits.”

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State of the program

Cleveland took over a BYU program in 1997 that was at rock bottom (1-25). The surprise hire from Fresno City College picked another junior college coach as his lead assistant — Dave Rose. Four years and a lot of hard work later, BYU was back in the NCAA Tournament.

While Pope’s departure has shaken the Cougars and sent several players tumbling into the transfer portal, it is nowhere near the condition Cleveland inherited.

“This is way, way different. That will never happen again. That whole experience will never happen again,” Cleveland said. “But out of it came some great players and some great coaches. We started this thing. Dave took it to another level and Mark did some wonderful things here to build the program. They are not done growing. They are in the Big 12.”

No matter which candidate is picked for the job, Cleveland believes they will keep the program moving forward.

“There is great leadership at the top, the fanbase is second to none in the world and what you have always had at BYU is the ability to recruit. They are always going to be able to get great players,” Cleveland said. “You bring a recruit into the dawg-gone Marriott Center and spend two hours watching a game and they are thinking, ‘Man, I want to be here!’ And I’m not just talking about Latter-day Saint kids. I think the program is in a good position.”

BYU assistant basketball coach Chris Burgess poses for photos while at the Marriott Center Annex in Provo on Friday, May 3, 2019. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at deseretbook.com.