Aug 05, 2020

‘Dogs made mistake by firing Cleveland

Well, the day we were all waiting for is here.

Cleve’s gone.

Fresno State Director of Athletics Thomas Boeh announced last night that men’s basketball coach Steve Cleveland would be stepping down, his new position being “special assistant to the director of athletics” — whatever that means.

This is the treatment the man gets for doing his job?

Cleveland was brought to Fresno State for one reason — clean up a Fresno State men’s basketball program that was in shambles.

Preceding Cleveland was Ray Lopes, a former assistant coach at Oklahoma, who, with the rest of his staff, made 457 illegal telephone calls to prospective recruits to the school. The school was placed on four years of probation for the incident, and was not able to have its full complement of scholarships until only this year.

This was the situation when Cleveland was hired. “We’re gonna do this,” he said, “we’re gonna do it the right way.”

Under this rubric, Cleveland has been an astonishing success.

Fresno State has not had even a whiff of scandal in the program in the six years Cleveland has led the program.

In addition, the men’s basketball team has vastly improved where it ultimately matters: in the classroom. As The Collegian’s Vongni Yang is reporting today, for the 2004-05 season — Ray Lopes’ final year at Fresno State — the team’s Academic Progress Rate, a measurement for academic progress, was 725, the worst score in all of the NCAA since the APR was first used.

Since Cleveland has taken over, Fresno State’s APR has risen to 928. Graduation rates have drastically increased and, at one point, the team’s GPA improved from 2.23 to 2.86.

Granted, Cleveland has not had the greatest success on the court. He has had only two winning seasons in his six years at Fresno State, and his best finish in the Western Athletic Conference was third.

But Cleveland has never had a full slate of scholarships until this past year, and to say this season’s disappointing record was unexpected is simply dishonest.

Paul George left last year for the NBA Draft, and Mike Ladd and Brandon Sperling both transferred to Washington State and Humboldt State respectively, stripping the team of its best player, a starting guard and its sixth man.

He had a young team this year — the ‘Dogs had only one senior, Ned Golubovic. Greg Smith, who made the Second Team All-WAC team this past season, may not have left Fresno State if Cleveland had stayed.

Kevin Olekaibe, a freshman guard, averaged 12 points per game, Tim Steed, a junior guard, averaged 10.7 points per game en route to being named to the WAC All-Newcomer team and Steven Shepp, a junior point guard, averaged about 2.5 assists for every turnover, providing a nucleus for a team that could be above .500 next year for the first time since the 2006-07 season.

And Cleveland won’t be around to see if the team he brought here will fulfill its potential.

Simply put, Cleveland was given the shaft by Fresno State. He left a good job at Brigham Young University, where he reached three NCAA Tournaments, to come back to his hometown and take over a squad that was a laughingstock. He turned the ‘Dogs into a respectable program again, and this is how he is rewarded?

The ‘Dogs will probably have a better record next year, and many will likely say that it was time for Cleveland to go. And maybe those people are right.

But it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It should for you too.

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