PROVO — They took down the rostrum at the Marriott Center, undid the heavy wooden panels and quickly assembled a sleeker, lighter version.
You might say that’s what Dave Rose did at BYU.
He rebuilt the program from the ground up.
The place was subdued during the noon hour, Tuesday, while a visiting professor lectured a couple of dozen people. Once he finished, the maintenance crew set up for Rose’s retirement press conference. It was a fitting sendoff for a coach who garnered 348 career wins, eight NCAA Tournament appearances, 13 consecutive 20-win seasons and a .720 winning percentage.
“The ability to have a successful team every year — it’s hard here at BYU, there’s so much stuff, so much change,” Rose said.
Missionaries coming and going, transfers, honor code, academics and even an NCAA sanction.
It’s enough to make a person want to retire, or to be retired.
Whatever triggered his departure, Rose stepped down roughly 18 hours after watching from courtside as his greatest player from his finest team play in a game for the Phoenix Suns at Vivint Arena. When the memories flow, it’s hard to ignore the 2011 BYU team, starring Jimmer Fredette. Rose ranked that Sweet 16 season his top coaching memory. All of which played nicely into the issue of whether BYU can ever get back to that place.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feel like I felt when we beat Gonzaga to go to the Sweet 16,” Rose said.
That’s somebody else’s problem now.
Rose’s career was impressive. He retires with the second-most wins in BYU history, 23 behind only legendary Stan Watts. But Watts did his winning before missions and NCAA sanctions and transfers and today’s Gonzaga took such a toll. Back in the WAC and Mountain West, BYU was a monster. The Cougars won four regular-season MWC championships and at one point had five straight seasons in the top 25 and six straight NCAA Tournament appearances under Rose. He also won 25 games or more in six straight seasons.
Only once — this year — did he fail to win 20.
In eight years in the West Coast Conference, the Cougars always finished second or third, and never higher than second in the conference tournament. This year Gonzaga is in the Sweet 16 — for the fifth time in a row — and playing like a Final Four team. But after failing to get either an NCAA or NIT bid, the Cougars are farther from winning titles than when they entered the conference. Missionary ages changed, while players became more restless and anxious for minutes. Also, the window for automatically claiming The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' best players has closed.
Imagine the success if NBA players Frank Jackson or Jabari Parker had decided on BYU instead of Duke. But that’s also the bright side of basketball, as opposed to football: It only takes one.
Whether that type of NBA-level player is actually interested in BYU is the dilemma.
Expectations among BYU fans are higher than Rose delivered at the end of his career. Attendance dropped this year, brought on by a generation of fans that would prefer watching on their smartphones. But there was also the realization things weren’t rising. The Cougars finished five games out of first place.
If the Cougars are looking for a charismatic, energetic, fearless coach, he’s right down the street. Utah Valley’s Mark Pope is as animated as a mime — only louder. He’s also the odds-on favorite, having worked under Rose at BYU. Pope made Utah Valley a WAC contender by bringing on numerous power conference players who weren't content where they were. That won’t be his m.o. if he takes the BYU job.
At UVU his team has played Arizona, Kentucky, Duke, Gonzaga, Washington State and Louisville in recent years, as well as BYU, Utah and Utah State.
At small schools, the only way to make a splash is to dive in.
Asked about playing Kentucky and Duke, back-to-back in 2017, Pope said, “It takes a pretty immature or unsavvy coach to want to take that on.”
Exactly what BYU needs.31 comments on this story
Pope could talk his way into Fort Knox, but whether BYU can get the requisite players to overcome Gonzaga is the issue. Obviously the Cougars intend to do it. They recently updated the Marriott Center and added a basketball annex. Although fans shouldn’t expect them to win championships while Gonzaga is still in the WCC, they should expect NCAA Tournament appearances. BYU has 29 of them. What it doesn’t have is a long history of putting players in the NBA.
The new coach can fix that all at the same time.