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Dick Harmon: Ex-Cougar coach Cleveland earning his stripes as color commentator

Published: Saturday, Nov. 26 2011 7:09 p.m. MST

PROVO —

Steve Cleveland is straddling two worlds.

Often, they clash. He's acquiring more knowledge of what it takes to be in one world now that he's lived in the other.

One is a world of high-pressure win-loss stakes as a coach; the other is that of a broadcast journalist, a commentator, paid to add color, both the good and bad.

It hasn't been easy to step out of major college coaching and become a member of the media. Cleveland still has the itch to wear a whistle. As he's visited all the Utah college practices, he's had a familiar tug at his heart to get back in the trenches. But Cleveland's job is to report and commentate, not figure out how to get a guy to set a proper pick.

The former Fresno State and BYU head coach is now doing color commentary for BYUtv, where he'll do at least a dozen games, including the Cougars' upcoming game at Northern Arizona.

"I've enjoyed it," he said. "I'm still learning, but I'm having a lot of fun."

The transition is interesting for Cleveland.

Coaches trust him because he's one of them. They tell him things, some of their secrets, their struggles, issues with players and challenges with their teams with a trust not afforded to most media members. He's granted great access because he's been their peer — he's been one of them.

Yet, to be credible as a color commentator, if any of the teams he covers, including BYU, is messing up, he has an obligation to describe what it is, give his opinion why and tell it like it is.

"I'm not going to beat up anybody on the air, but I'm not going to gloss over bad play; I want to be objective and fair to both teams always and consistently," he said.

Sounds like a good plan.

He credits play-by-play man Dave McCann and ESPN producer Mikol Minor with making his job easier, easing him into the role as color man.

Cleveland is an engaging man. He's perfect for analysis. He knows the science of basketball, the passion and emotion. He likes people. He also enjoys putting words together, unrolling a take. He is honest. He's no brutally honest Johnny Miller, but he's honest enough.

Cleveland has always been a media savvy coach. He's been open, reporter-friendly, honest and forthright in interviews. Yet, as a coach, he always kept to a coach's mandate — stay clear of sports talk radio, the Internet and message boards.

"I'd tell anyone who coaches to stay as far away from that as possible because it will drive you crazy — even if you are winning," he said.

Now, however, Cleveland feels it is his job to listen to sports radio, look on the Internet and gather all he can about teams so he has a more clear perspective.

He's even got a Twitter account and the first day he signed up and word got out, he attracted 400 followers.

"When I decided to go into this, I turned to a longtime friend now in the broadcast business, Fran Franchilla, and he's given me great advice," said Cleveland. "He told me the most important thing I could do is prepare, that you can easily tell the difference between color analysts who prepare before a game and those who don't — you don't want to be one of those who don't."

He's enjoyed the feedback so far. He's been approached in restaurants by fans, thanking him for his commentary, his objectivity, and his work as a coach while at BYU. He has folks from St. George call and say they were surprised to tune into a BYUtv broadcast and hear him say there was some "interesting" officiating at the end of the BYU-Dixie State game that went BYU's way. "Didn't think you'd admit that," said the caller.

Just doing his job — hopefully the right way.

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