FRANCHUK: Former BYU coach Steve Cleveland enjoying different role

2013-02-14T00:30:00Z 2013-11-06T21:45:31Z FRANCHUK: Former BYU coach Steve Cleveland enjoying different roleJason Franchuk - Daily Herald Daily Herald
February 14, 2013 12:30 am  • 

Recently at a game in Portland, BYU guard Anson Winder made a move that resulted in a referee's whistle and a turnover, making the Cougar basketball player arch his eyebrows and scowl.

His coach, Dave Rose, leapt off the Cougar bench to protest, as well.

Not far away Steve Cleveland, who knows them both well, calmly pointed out from his perch that it was indeed the right call.

That's Cleveland's line of work now. Not to motivate. Not to get players to graduate, or perform. But to analyze.

And, yes, he's enjoying it.

"It's been a great experience for me, and I've tried to learn a lot," Cleveland said. "I do, everyday."

The startup of BYUtv for last season's slate of basketball games afforded Cleveland an easy in.

Of course, he was the head coach at BYU from 1997-2005, before he left for Fresno State for a hit-and-miss tenure of five seasons. He built up his hometown Bulldogs from the ground floor, brought back respectable graduation rates, won some games (78-81 record) and even put a few studs in the NBA.

But it’s BYU where he may be known better, and where he has found a new niche.

His first broadcasted game, he used "we" a few times and knew instantly that was a bad instinct.

He's dumped it, and has grown a clearer voice.

Wherever he's been, media types have regarded him as easily accessible and willing to not only share his point of view in a one-on-one setting, but also to hear the other side.

(A quick aside: My first year in Provo, Cleveland pulled me aside after a home game and said he wanted to speak to me in 20 minutes. Turned out his staff mates had taken issue with a recent story I wrote about the Cougars needing more home wins. They thought I had devalued homecourt wins, when Cleveland — along with current head coach Dave Rose, among others — had worked so hard to bring back the passion at the Marriott Center.)

(Last note of this story: We spoke for 20 minutes, heard each other out, the issue was done.)

Now, back to your regularly scheduled feature story on Cleveland.

His quick ascension has even left Cleveland opportunities to work for ESPNU, perhaps a way to work his way up the pecking order. That's why he was in Portland, a couple of days after he worked BYU's loss at Gonzaga for BYUtv.

Former coaches are all over ESPN's slew of network games.

One of the best in the business now may be Fran Fraschilla, the former coach at New Mexico whom Cleveland has leaned on as a resource.

Cleveland even traveled to Texas to spend a couple of days gleaning ideas from his old conference nemesis, who routinely covers major games.

"I've been lucky to receive a lot of really wonderful insights on how to start in the business," Cleveland said. "In some ways, it's not much different than the coaching profession. You have to pay your dues, and it takes time."

An acquaintance, Andy Rosenberg, is a major sports-director influence for NBC.

Cleveland getting to work a lot of West Coast Conference games these days — as that's where the Cougars play — has been a major coup to his startup venture.

His California roots have put him in a situation where he's very familiar with most of the coaches and schools.

He credits fellow on-air talent like Dave McCann and Blaine Fowler (BYUtv) and BYU's radio voice, KSL’s Greg Wrubell, for creating a "comfort level" for him.

Cleveland knows his job is a fine line. Sure, there is an emotional attachment to the Cougars, a team he started and ended with 9-21 records that don't do his value justice in the middle.

He also says he wants to see other friends in the business do well.

Cleveland said he's tried to make the BYU connection less complicated by not just showing up and watching every Marriott Center practice.

"I'm a member of the media," Cleveland said, and you know the punch line is coming. "That's hard for me to say still."

Will he stay around?

He doesn't exactly have to be like "Doc Graham," crossing a line in "Field of Dreams" and never getting to return to play the game.

Fraschilla stayed in front of the camera, but Steve Lavin (St. John's) and Mike Gottfried (North Carolina State) have shown that time away from the court, and getting to know it as an analyst, can lead to a successful bench return.

He's learned some things, and said if he gets another shot at running a team (and chooses to take it) Cleveland would stay involved with what he calls the "Twitter situation," one he's glad somebody convinced him to try.

He would never exactly peck away at his phone keypad to the level of communicating with followers during halftime, but "I would have a Twitter account and I would reach out to the fans. I think there is a place with can be a really positive thing as a coach."

Though the job will still be the same down the road: Win games, he notes, and graduate young people.

And not be so unbiased about the whistles.

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