Friday, March 18, 2011

College Basketball: Steve Cleveland Steps Down at Fresno State Among Mis-Guided Expectations

On Thursday night, Steve Cleveland stepped down as the head coach of the men's basketball team at Fresno State University.

For the past week, or maybe more, rumors were flying about the university wanting to go in another direction. Wanting a new face and hopefully change in a program that has had it's struggles since Jerry Tarkanian left the program.

But this wasn't all Cleveland's fault. Sure the team wasn't winning like most wanted them to but this was a coach who came in after his predecessor was cited for recruiting violations which kept the new head coach from bringing in the kind of players who could turn this program around.

In 2006, just his second season at Fresno State, it looked like the Bulldogs were finally getting back to where they needed to be. The team finished with an astounding 22-10 record after a 15-13 record in Cleveland's first season, but they were bounced in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament.

But, over the next three seasons, the program couldn't seem to pick itself up off the floor, struggling to a 41-58 record from 2007-2010.

The university wanted more and they made that clear to Cleveland after the Bulldogs lost in the first round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament a little over a week ago.

Cleveland stayed behind in Las Vegas and had conversations with athletic director Thomas Boeh. Conversations that led to the head coach deciding to step down and taking a new position within the athletic department at least until his contract runs out next year.

Boeh told the media last night the former Bulldogs' head coach would assist in the search for his replacement and a short list had already been compiled.

The more I listened to the press conference the more my mind began to wonder why Fresno State handled their basketball program differently than they've handled their football program?

Why would they run off a basketball coach who really had the deck stacked against him from the very start? Boeh said this move was about wins and attendance, but how many wins did Boeh expect out of his head coach? What were his expectations for a program which, after two different head coaches blamed for NCAA violations against the university, couldn't have been that attractive to young players?

It was this exact thought which led me to wonder why Pat Hill, the head football coach at Fresno State, was being treated differently? What was I missing?

Under Pat Hill, the football program is 4-7 in 11 bowl appearances and has yet to win an outright conference championship. You'd think it would be enough for the university to go in a different direction.

Instead, it got Hill a three-year contract extension.

When I asked a local beat writer about it his only response was, "fans will come out to see Derek Carr fling the bean around the field." Really? I thought this was about wins not about seeing a young quarterback throw the football around?

There are apparently a lot of things I don't understand about how Fresno State is handling these two programs. They want more wins in one of them but seem happy with 8-5 and 8-4 seasons, year in and year out, from another.

The next head coach for the men's basketball team will need to be a name they can flaunt and a name that will bring in the kind of recruits that will allow them to rebuild this program into a contender once again.

Maybe moving into the Mountain West Conference in 2011 will enable them to start the process. Until then, apparently all I can do is sit back and watch it unfold.

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