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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended February 09, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 08Feb01

By Mark Wright

Cleveland Gives His Converts a Reason to Believe

PROVO, UTAH -- Maybe it's his charismatic personality. Perhaps it's his previous experience as an LDS missionary, searching for believers while knocking on doors in England. Whatever the reason, the head coach for the BYU men's basketball team, Steve Cleveland, is converting the masses. After a long spell of fan inactivity, Coach Cleveland has given the Cougar faithful a reason to believe.

When Steve Cleveland first arrived at BYU four years ago, the men's basketball program was in serious disarray. Not only had the team just completed an abysmal 1-25 year, the Cougar basketball faithful were staying away in droves. Instead of enjoying the sell-out crowds that were the norm during BYU's glory days, it was not unusual to see just a few thousand fans rattling around in the cavernous 22,700-seat Marriott Center. Seats went begging as only the most loyal fans bothered to show up and see the Cougars play. All of this was a far cry from earlier years when students waited in line to get tickets and there was a lottery system to assign the best seats.

After settling into the job, Cleveland knew that an important part of revving up the basketball program at BYU had to include finding a way to rejuvenate the fans. No serious college basketball recruit wants to play in an empty gym and Cleveland wanted to attract the best players available. In order to achieve success, Cleveland knew he would have to find a way to consistently pack a bunch of rowdy students and loyal home town fans into the Marriott Center. Cleveland also recognized the "chicken and the egg" nature of his dilemma. Without a strong and supportive group of fans, he couldn't recruit the athletes that he needed to build a winning program. Without the athletes that he needed to build a winning program, he couldn't put the kind of competitive and entertaining team on the floor that the fans would pay to come and see.

Given his strong background in the LDS church and the large number of faithful LDS students at BYU, its not surprising that Cleveland turned to a faith-based promotional effort to sell the program to the fans. Cleveland went to the students in the dorms, the cafeteria, the food-court area, and everywhere else on campus and told them that he was going to build a successful basketball program and that he needed their help. He encouraged them to come out to the games and did everything he could to make them somehow believe that the BYU basketball team could be good again.

Cleveland said, "Getting fans was the one thing we could control. We couldn't control the players left in the program, and we couldn't recruit that first year. What we could control was the perception of the program and the relationship with students and people in the community. We asked them to trust us and hoped we'd turn it into a positive."

Several years later, Coach Cleveland's missionary effort has paid off and Cleveland has his converts. Not only has he consistently attracted some very fine basketball players to the now successful basketball team, the fans are back in a very big way. The Cougar basketball team began to improve immediately after Cleveland arrived. They posted a 9-21 record his first season and moved to 12-16 the second year. Last year the Cougars went 22-11 and they are presently 16-6 on the year.

Not coincidentally, The Marriott Center crowd is now recognized as one of the best in the Mountain West Conference. The Cleveland-inspired fans and the Cougar basketball team are working their synergistic magic in the Marriott Center. The Cougars are undefeated at home this year (13-0) and drew more than 19,000 enthusiastic fans for their 69-61 victory over Utah last week. That puts the average attendance for this years' home games at just over 10,000/game. While the "Pit" at New Mexico has always been a feared stop on the road for MWC basketball teams, the Marriott Center is once again regaining its reputation as a very unfriendly place for Cougar opponents. That is the direct result of both a good basketball team and a newly discovered group of fans who had the faith to believe in Coach Cleveland and, ultimately, their team.

One little-known fact about Coach Cleveland may come as a bit of a surprise. Interestingly, Coach Cleveland is the first head basketball or football coach at BYU to have served an LDS mission, serving in England from 1971-73. On a related note, newly acquired BYU head football coach, Gary Crowton, is the first-ever head football coach at BYU to have served an LDS Church mission, serving in South Korea from 1979 to 1981.


Cleveland Sells, Wins BYU
Albuquerque NM Journal 3Feb01 S3
By Mark Smith: Journal Staff Writer


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