Clovis News: Sports

Cleveland out as Fresno State basketball coach

Fresno State ended a week of mostly silence about the future of men's basketball coach Steve Cleveland, saying at a Thursday evening news conference that he's being reassigned.

Cleveland, 59, led the Bulldogs to a 92-98 record in six seasons, the last four of which were losing campaigns.

"I sincerely am sorry that this thing didn't get turned on the court because I really believed that it would," Cleveland said. He lamented tough breaks -- losing players who didn't finish their eligibility, either because they opted to go professional or because they were dismissed from the team.

"But that's how life is," he said. "That's just how it plays out."

The end of his tenure wasn't unexpected, but was drawn out since the Bulldogs' season ended with a thud eight days ago in Las Vegas at the Western Athletic Conference tournament. The university gave an hour's notice about Thursday's 7 p.m. press conference.

Athletic director Thomas Boeh said that in the past few days, while players, fans and media wondered and waited, the school and Cleveland worked out an agreement in which Cleveland will be paid about $250,000 from the state for about one year if he stays in his new role as an athletic department administrator. Boeh said he expected that Cleveland will help Fresno State make its move to the Mountain West Conference beginning in the fall of 2012.

Cleveland's coaching contract ran through the 2012-13 season, and he was due about $500,000 per year in the final two years, Boeh said. Cleveland is also due deferred compensation.

Now, he's under contract to stay with the school only through May 2012.

A Hoover High School grad and former coach at Clovis West High and Fresno City College, Cleveland was hired by the Bulldogs in 2005 after an eight-year tenure and three NCAA Tournament appearances at Brigham Young University. His duty: clean up the program's profile after previous Bulldogs coaches committed NCAA violations and previous teams struggled academically.

During his first season, Cleveland joined Boeh and other school administrators in San Antonio at an NCAA infractions committee hearing. Cleveland was helping answer for violations committed by former coach Ray Lopes.

Cleveland also inherited an academic mess. The men's basketball program's initial score on the NCAA's Academic Progress Rating was 611, the worst in NCAA history. Its multiyear score now sits at 928.

But while Cleveland accomplished off-the-court goals, he was unable to ignite the fan base with wins. His only postseason appearance came in his best season, 2006-07. The Bulldogs went 22-10 that year and lost in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

As Cleveland's tenure wore on, though, it was clear that the attendance figures the school was announcing didn't accurately reflect the number of fans showing up to cheer on the home team at the 15,544-seat Save Mart Center.

The lack of spectators has hit the athletic department's pocketbook hard. Men's basketball gate receipts came in about $250,000 less than projected in the 2010-11 budget. They have dropped 43% since 2007-08.

"In essence, we need to re-energize our basketball program and our constituents," Boeh said.

"We do need a balance," Boeh continued. "We do need to have a program that operates with integrity, that operates with academic achievement, and progress is important to the program. But at the same time, at a place like Fresno State, we do need our folks to come and support the program."

A national search for a new coach has begun.