Ryan Cuff has worn a lot of colors as a player and a coach during his basketball life.
He’s worn the blue and red of Richfield High. He’s donned BYU blue, Arizona State yellow and Weber State purple in college. He wore various colors playing professional basketball overseas in New Zealand and England. As a coach, he’s stalked the sidelines in the maroon and gold of Lone Peak, the blue of Dixie and now the red and white of American Fork.
When Cuff accepted the American Fork boys basketball coaching job this spring he didn’t have any red shirts or clothing at all. What little he could find his wife, Lisa, would hide from him as a joke.
But changing jobs after 10 years at Dixie High School was much more than just adopting new colors. It was about sitting down and having that difficult conversation with his family about a new opportunity, not just for him but for them as well.
So far, so good. The Cavemen are undefeated at 14-0 heading into Thursday’s final preseason game against Kearns. Preparing to play in the state’s toughest region, American Fork is the top-ranked team in Class 6A.
“From the beginning, we feel like we’re lucky to be a part of it,” Ryan Cuff said. “The players are hungry and coachable. They want to learn and get better. They believe they can win and are buying into some of the things we’ve asked them to do. We’re still working on the little things. We feel like we’re going in the right direction. It’s a process. We’ve had some success but I feel like we haven’t peaked.”
On a personal level, the Cuffs are doing fine after the move from St. George to Utah County, though Lisa — an Arizona native — is still getting used to the colder weather. She is a counselor at American Fork. Their son Tanner, a senior, is the second-leading scorer on the basketball team (14.3 points per game). Their daughter, Pyper, is a sophomore on the girls team and played soccer in the fall. Another son, Tiger Luke, is in junior high and plays hoops as well.
Ryan Cuff has three brothers and a sister who all live in Utah, so family has been important in adjusting to the move. Sports is another way the Cuffs have adapted to a new situation.
“Basketball helped the move, for sure,” Cuff said. “It’s easier to make friends and fit in. People will say the grass is always greener on the other side. I say the grass is greener on the other side because of you. This hasn’t been easy. We’ve had ups and downs just like any family move. It’s nice to know our kids are feeling more comfortable. When the kids are happy, mom is happy.”
Cuff was a high school phenom at Richfield playing for his father, Bob, in the late 1980s. Cuff’s battles against Emery High School and Shawn Bradley are legendary. Cuff’s nomadic college and professional career eventually led him back to Utah, where he began coaching as an assistant under Mike Maxwell at Bountiful. Cuff won a 4A state championship as the head coach at Lone Peak in 2001, then left to pursue business interests. That led him to Arizona and then back to Utah, where he directed Dixie to a 3A state title in 2015.
The Cuffs spent 10 great years in St. George, but eventually a new opportunity came to light.
Last spring, good friend Dough Meacham left American Fork and told Cuff he wanted to coach with him at Dixie as an assistant. Meanwhile, the American Fork administration reached out to Cuff about their head coach opening.
“When I told Doug, with his personality, he just said, ‘Maybe we should just switch jobs,’” Cuff said.
As Cuff went through the process of interviewing at American Fork, the Snow Canyon boys basketball job opened up and Meacham was hired.
The Cuffs decided to embrace the challenge and move back to Utah County.
“It was kind of hard because I’d had the same friends for the last 10 years,” Tanner Cuff said. “But I thought this was going to be good opportunity for me to play at a higher level, getting exposure playing with great players. When you play against 6A teams, they are a lot bigger and more physical than 4A teams.”
Ryan Cuff had to finish out the school year at Dixie after he took the American Fork coaching job. He reached out to former assistant Reed Bromley, who had stayed at Lone Peak after Cuff left. Bromley handled open gyms at American Fork and Cuff started to familiarize himself with his new team.
There was definitely talent there. Senior Isaac Johnson, a 6-foot-11 wing player, is one of the most recruited players in Utah and signed with the University of Oregon. Senior guard Trey Stewart chose Mark Pope and the Utah Valley University program. Hayden Franson is a 6-6 senior forward who has multiple skills. Senior guard McKay Smith is a glue guy and the Cavemen have an up-and-coming freshmen in guard Noah Moeaki.
All that talent doesn’t mean there wasn’t an adjustment period.
“It was a rough summer,” Ryan Cuff said. “I was up here for tournaments getting to know the kids. There were growing pains and we lost some games. I like to remind the guys that we had losses — some consecutively — in the summer to keep them humble.”
Getting out of Region 4 won’t be easy. All five teams have the talent to make a run in the state tournament. American Fork has not qualified for the state tournament for two seasons, losing in a play-in game last season to Westlake.
Cuff is intent on changing all of that.
“It’s awesome to be part of a great program in American Fork,” he said. “We have great kids, great administrators and great teachers. We love being on campus and getting to know the kids. It’s a great place to be. We like the opportunity to be able to get some kids at another level to compete each year to be one of best teams in the state. It’s about having a bar set to let everybody realize this is what we want and we don’t want to settle for anything less.”