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SoCalHoops High School News

Oxnard Santa Clara's Coach Lou Cvijanovich
Hangs It Up After 41 Years--(March 28, 1999)

Coach Lou Cvijanovich, the most successful coach ever in California history, has decided to step down now that the season is over. Many people are asking "why?" like it's some huge secret, or a big conspiracy.  Well, the reason why should be obvious to everyone and anyone.  First, Coach C is 72 years old.   Second, he's compiled the most wins of any active coach in the State of California.   Third, he's got three State Titles in basketball.  Fourth, he's been coaching for 52 years. The man deserves a change of pace, a different lifestyle.  Time to move on.

Cvijanovich has won 892 games in his 41 years at Santa Clara, the last 12 of those as the head basketball coach. For 17 years before that, he was the head basketball coach at Santa Clara.  He's coached five of his six sons, and this year he had a grandson on the Division V State Championship team.
Civijanovich, who is known as "Coach C" to just about everyone, says he's retiring because he wants to. His health is fine, and he's not "burned out."   But he's 72 years old. In the world of coach, there's not much he hasn't already accomplished. His son, Steve had been an assistant coach this past year, but he decided to move out of state, and if that weren't enough reason to hang it up, Santa Clara, a 100-year-old school in a not terribly nice area of Oxnard has seen a steadily declining enrollment, down from more than 900 at it's peak to somewhere around 275 students at the present time. It's harder and harder to field competitive teams, and the graduation of several seniors on the squad this year, including Nick Jones (6'-5" Sr. SG/SF) and BJ Ward (6'-1" Sr. PG/SG), both of whom are attending UC Santa Barbara on basketball scholarships, means that it will be just that much harder, almost starting over. 

And even if the red socks he always wore to basketball games did work a sort of magic, there's no turning back the clock. Lou just wants something different, a change of pace, and building a basketball team again, for many is a young man's game.  And while he says his health is not a concern, that hasn't always been the case. Lou is no spring chicken, and he's not getting any younger.   "At least I went out a winner," he said, referring to Santa Clara's 75-68 victory March 19 in Sacramento to win the CIF-State Division V Championship, his third state title in the past 11 years.  My head coaching days are 'adios.' I don't like that, but there are reasons why certain things happen," he told the Ventura County Star yesterday.

At the beginning of this past season, we did many previews and profiles of most of the top teams, including Santa Clara.  As a part of that preview, we featured some background information and an interview with Coach C.   Here's what we wrote on October 28, 1998 after talking for about an hour with Coach C:

"I'm going to keep coaching until I can't coach any longer. I've got a new knee, two new eyes after cataract surgery, gallbladder surgery, a prostate operation; I've been through the wars. Right now I feel great, and I'm going to keep going because I love what I do." --Lou Cvijanovich, varsity coach, Santa Clara High School

Lou Cvijanovich (pronounce "See-anovich") has been coaching at Santa Clara High School in Oxnard for the last 40 years, and this will be his 41st season as the basketball coach. When asked why he got into coaching, he says simply "Because I couldn't play any longer. I did a bit of refereeing, and then the coaching position opened up at Santa Clara, and I've been here ever since." But he hasn't only coached basketball: "Back in the days when I started, you had to do everything, there was no specialization at a small school, and I coached football for 17 years, and baseball for 12," Lou told us. "I really love it here at Santa Clara, and this school means a lot to me. I've put 8 of my own children through this school, 6 boys and 2 girls, so it's a pretty special place to me."

For a small school, with only 270 students, Santa Clara is a pretty high-profile program. This year they have two players who have verballed to Division I college programs: Nick Jones and B.J. Ward will both attend UCSB and will try to re-energize the Gaucho program next year. When we asked Lou for a brief history of Santa Clara and how many times they've won sectional, regional or state titles, he said, "Oh, I don't want to even talk about that. Some people would say that I just bragging, and besides, I really don't remember." Well, to refresh his recollection, the school has won a total of 14 CIF Southern Section championships, 3 Southern Regional Championships in the State Tournament ('89-'90-'91), and has two Division IV CIF State Championships [Now 3 after this past season, 1999]. And that's just in what is considered the "modern" CIF era, when they started keeping official records again in 1981 in Division I (records in Division IV were started again in 1988. Prior to that only Sectional records were kept and there was no State Title in Divisions IV or V.) In the last eight years or so, Santa Clara's enrollment has steadily declined, from a high of about 870 in the late 80's to the current enrollment of around 270. They've gone from Division IV to Division V-AA, the next to smallest division in the current CIF configuration. But Lou has seen it all when it comes to CIF. "When I started, Division I was the smallest, and now it's the largest, so with all the re-leaguing and reconfiguring, it really doesn't make any sense to talk about how many titles we've won. We just go out and play to win." Lou has seen quite a few changes in the game. "The shot clock really had no impact on us at all last year. I think it's great. We're going to shoot the ball anyway, and I don't think we had even one violation last year."

"But there is one change I wish would have come sooner: I just wish that back in the 'good old days' they had the three-point rule in effect, because back then, I had some great shooters who could really hit the set shot; now it's a struggle to find great three point shooters. It's one of the great ironies in my coaching life."

As we said, Lou isn't big on remember or touting his career statistics, but there is one statistic that Lou remembers, and he told us about it. "Here's something you can say: This year, going into the 1998-1999 season, I've got 799 wins in 40 years of coaching basketball. Sometime during my 41st year, I hope to get No. 800. If I don't, then I'd say it's not a very good year." 799 wins -- we would expect that the 800th will come sometime during the Simi tournament, and if it does we sure hope that
someone will feel compelled to hold even a modest awards ceremony to mark the occasion. And Lou is actually expecting a pretty good year. Just how good, he won't speculate, but for a school as small as Santa Clara, they've got a quick team that can score and get the job done. "We really only lost one impact player from last season, our scorer Scott Sorich. Other than him, basically all of the starters and impact players are back." When talking about the consistency of the team and how they're likely
to do, Lou really wouldn't speculate. "We have a lot of great guards, and we really run a five-man passing, motion offense, so the positions are pretty interchangeable. The only thing we are really missing is a real big man in the middle, so we'll hope to challenge other teams with our speed and quickness, " Lou told us. "We did very well in summer league against teams like Moorpark, Camarillo, Ventura, Oxnard, and others. And I think we'll be ready for the season."

Yes indeed, Coach C was correct, they were ready for the season, and then a bit more in the playoffs.  And he got that 800th win during the Simi Tournament, and went on to win another 29 games this season.  As the Ventura County Star noted today, it will take another 15 years for the next most active coach to equal his current games-won record.

Today's edition of the Ventura County Star  had a very nice story about Coach C, and featured some very nice reminiscences by some former students and players.  Here are some excerpts from the story:

For thousands of his pupils, things happened because of Coach C. He's a mountain of a man at 6-foot-3 and up to 300 pounds at times, who would erupt like a volcano at the appropriate moment.

But those legendary outbursts were only a part of the lessons he taught.

"Lou's a class act, a gentleman and a man who is good for kids," said CIF-Southern Section Commissioner of Athletics Dean Crowley. "He not only teaches them basketball, but he teaches them life skills. And he's been able to adjust with the times. He's been volatile but he's mellowed. As society changed, so has he."

Ventura attorney Mike O'Brien said,"People tend to remember all the victories, but if you played for him, he expected you to be a man and play hard."

O'Brien is a 1965 Santa Clara graduate who won All-CIF Southern Section awards playing football, basketball and baseball for Cvijanovich.

"He drilled the concept of teamwork into you. When I was finished, I had a really solid idea about life. I had the feeling there was nothing I couldn't do," O'Brien said. "You translate what he taught you into the real world -- the hard work, the determination, the team play, the perseverance -- and you are ready for anything. That's what I learned. For the thousands of kids he coached, that is his real legacy."

Cvijanovich began coaching all sports at Santa Clara in September 1958 after short stints at Wilson Junior High and Haydock Junior High in Oxnard and Camarillo High.

"He has to be the biggest figure in Oxnard, period," said Shon Tarver, the player who led Santa Clara to its basketball state championships in 1989 and 1990 and who now plays professional ball in Japan. "Everyone knows Coach C. He stressed for me to get my degree more than anything else. It would have been embarrassing to come back and see Coach and not have that degree."

* * * *

This is not a man whose influence and impact have been limited to Oxnard and Santa Clara High School.

In 41 years, legions of teen-agers have passed through the realm of Coach Lou Cvijanovich (see-yawn-o-vitch), holding onto at least something they acquired on the journey to elsewhere in Ventura County and beyond.

A grizzly to some, he's a teddy bear to others.

He's the winningest coach in California.

Coach C.

Who always wore red socks to his basketball team's games.

Who believed in bigger things, like making sure his players went to classes and got good grades, and learned also about dedication and teamwork and responsibility. Big things that can last a lifetime.

Yes, he often yelled at his players.

Yes, he could come across as grumpy and gruff.

And, yes, he might berate officials.

He didn't keep his passion for the game a secret.

And now, at 72, he has decided it's time to step down.

At this point, there has been no official word from the school as to who will succeed Coach Lou Cvijanovich.  Whoever it is, will have some pretty big shoes to fill.  Not to mention some red socks.


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