Steve Cleveland, the former head coach of the BYU men’s basketball team, was in many ways the savior of a program in shambles.
When Cleveland took over head coaching duties in 1997, he inherited a BYU team that just put the finishing touches on a 1-25 season. Yes, one win (against Utah State. I wonder how the Aggies felt about that one.). The coaching position was in total turmoil, as Roger Reid gave way to interim coach Tony Ingle, and nothing was ever totally settled.
I remember that 1-25 season well. It was totally embarrassing. I was just a Junior High kid at the time, but I remember I didn’t even want to admit I was a BYU fan (forgive me—I was much younger and weaker then). When Steve Cleveland came aboard we Cougar fans were looking for some answers.
In his first season, Cleveland upped the win count by 900% (9-21). The next season the win count jumped up to 12, then 22, then 24. Each season got a little better than the last, and soon we were winning conference championships and making postseason appearances. He rebuilt the program in every sense of the word.
Under Cleveland played some of my favorite BYU Hoops stars: Mikeli Wesley, Eric Nielsen, Matt Montague, Mark Bigelow and of course Travis Hansen. He even brought in guys you might remember a little better: Mike Hall, Keena Young, Trent Plaisted and even Jackson Emery.
I never got to see the great Rafael Araujo because I was on my mission at the time. I wish I could have seen those 2003-2004 teams, though. It sounded like they were a lot of fun to watch.
I also remember guys like Terrell Lyday and Ron Selleaze who played under Cleveland. These were athletes the kind BYU rarely ever gets. They were fun to watch (during the brief period they actually played). Lyday was a JC transfer who only played two years at BYU, and Selleaze had one good season before he… left the team.
One of the best and most exciting games I can ever remember watching in the Marriot Center came during Cleveland’s tenure. It was in 2002 when Utah came to visit. BYU was down 21 in the second half to the Utes, and we went on a 24-5 tear before Eric Nielsen hit the eventual game-winner with 20 seconds left to play. I can’t remember the Marriott Center being any louder and crazier than it was that day.
Cleveland’s teams were always fun to watch. They featured athleticism on the wings and a big powerful force in the middle. They were a little less consistent than what we’re used to now, but no one can overestimate the good influence Steve Cleveland had on our program.
His decision to leave BYU after the 2004-2005 season, then, came as a shock to BYU fans. Even though the 2004-2005 season was less than impressive, Cleveland was secure in his situation at BYU. He wanted to coach Fresno State, however, and decided to bid farewell to Provo.
Tom Holmoe then hired a plucky assistant named Dave Rose, and the rest is history.
But I remember Steve, and he did a great job with a BYU program that had hit rock bottom. He deserves a warm welcome when he returns to the Marriot Center tonight.