Posted on: Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Taking foul shot at WAC
"I've got to be careful because I don't want to offend WAC coaches, but, yes, I'll do everything I can to help get us into the Mountain West (Conference)."
Steve Cleveland, new Fresno State men's basketball coach, in the Fresno Bee yesterday.
By Ferd Lewis
You've got to love a basketball coach who, on his first day back in the Western Athletic Conference, paints a big, bold bull's-eye on his backside.
For there's nothing like talking down your upcoming competition in an introductory press conference before you've actually had so much as a winning season in the conference.
And to think some people thought the Bulldogs' coach would be boring now that Fresno State has pledged to clean up its act, again.
But along comes Cleveland, bailing out of a deteriorating (9-21) situation at Brigham Young, to plunge foot in mouth to tonsil depth in the best tradition of two of his Cougar predecessors, Frank Arnold and Roger Reid. Apparently, you can take the basketball coach out of BYU but you can't take the arrogance out of the coach.
Maybe the reported $500,000 a year deal plus enhanced retirement benefits went to Cleveland's head. Or, with less-than-overwhelming public perception of his hire he felt he had to say something outlandish. Either way, for somebody who has such potential to help make the WAC better by turning around Fresno's miscreant past and present, his first step was decidedly backwards.
"I was disappointed," said WAC commissioner Karl Benson.
"To sit there and say, 'we want to go to the Mountain West.' Why would you leave the Mountain West to come to the WAC if this wasn't as good as the Mountain West in your eyes?" said Hawai'i coach Riley Wallace.
Consider that over the past six seasons the WAC is 9-11 in the NCAA Tournament compared with the MWC's 5-14. And, in overall postseason (NCAA and National Invitation Tournament) appearances, the WAC is 22-21 to the MWC's 15-27.
"We feel like we have done as well or better than they have the last few years," said Wallace, the dean of WAC basketball coaches. "We think we have as good a league as the Mountain West and we've got to sell our own league. I thought all of our schools were committed by the presidents to sticking with the league and advancing it. I think he probably needs to visit with his president before he says things like that."
Clearly, Cleveland will have some explaining to do when the coaches meet next month.
Considering he was a combined 10-18 in WAC games in two seasons at BYU before the Cougars bolted the conference and his Cougars went 1-2 this season against teams that will be part of the conference in 2005-06, maybe Cleveland might want to win the WAC before he talks about leading Fresno State out of it.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8044.