Gannon head women’s basketball coach Cleve Wright announced Friday afternoon he will take the next step up the coaching ladder and become the new head women’s basketball coach at NCAA Division I Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
Wright departs Gannon as the school’s all-time winningest basketball coach regardless of gender. He produced a 233-100 career record in 11 seasons at Gannon, resulting in a .700 winning percentage. His victory total is 128 more than any other women’s basketball coach in school history and 54 more than Gannon’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach.
“I want to thank Gannon University and especially President Keith Taylor for all they have done for me and my family during the last 11 years as the women’s basketball coach,” said Wright. “My family has grown up here and I am grateful to Gannon and the Erie community for the way they have embraced us. That made this decision extremely difficult. The present and future of Gannon women’s basketball is bright and the Wright family is its biggest fan.”
Wright took the Gannon women’s basketball program to heights unseen before in school history. Prior to his arrival, Gannon had qualified for the NCAA Tournament four times in 28 seasons and had won only one NCAA postseason game during those trips. Since Wright took over the reins, the Lady Knights have played in five NCAA Tournaments and won 11 NCAA postseason contests. The run includes a trip to the NCAA Division II national semifinals in 2010 and the NCAA Division II Elite Eight this past season. Individually, Gannon student-athletes were named All-American six times and All-Conference 28 times under Wright.
“Coach Wright has put the Gannon women’s basketball program on the national map,” said Gannon Director of Athletics Mark Richard. “And he has done it the right way by developing student-athletes to be leaders in the classroom, on the court and in the community. He spearheaded the Pink Zone game which has brought awareness and raised thousands of dollars that stayed local to fight cancer.
“We will miss Cleve along with his wife Diane and his daughters Chloe and Emma and we wish them nothing but the best at Miami University. It’s been a great opportunity for me to work alongside Coach Wright and witness his successes.”
Gannon President Keith Taylor, Ph.D., echoed those sentiments. “The entire Gannon community and I will sadly missed Coach Wright. He has been a tremendous ambassador of the University and had grown into a tremendous coach during his time at Gannon.”
Wright’s coaching awards are plentiful. He was named NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year and Atlantic Region Coach of the Year by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) in 2010. A three-time conference coach of the year, Wright was named Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Western Division Coach of the Year twice in 2010 and 2013. In addition, he was named 2007 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Coach of the Year.
The accomplishments off the court have been stunning. In addition to producing the best team grade point average in the PSAC during the 2011-12 season, Gannon has been among the nation’s top 25 in team GPA during seven of the last eight years. The run included a No. 12 ranking in 2008-09 (3.497) and 2009-10 (3.491). In 2006-07, the Lady Knights achieved their highest national ranking ever, being tabbed sixth with a 3.494 mark. The program was 14th in 2011-12 (3.526), ninth in 2007-08 (3.508), 21st in 2005-06 (3.343) and seventh in 2004-05 (3.487). In addition, Lady Knights have earned conference all-academic honors 70 times during the last 10 seasons.
The Gannon women’s basketball program was extremely mindful of its responsibility to the community during Wright’s tenure. The Lady Knights were honored as the Outstanding Young Philanthropist by the American Fundraising Professionals (AFP) in 2011. The program began its annual Pink Zone event to help fund research and fight cancer in 2008. Since then, the program has raised over $82,000 that has stayed completely local.
Wright not only established himself as one of Gannon’s all-time best, but also as one of the top head coaches in NCAA Division II. He entered the 2012-13 campaign 21st among active Division II coaches and first among PSAC coaches in career winning percentage. That mark ranked 38th all-time in NCAA Division II women’s basketball history.
In 2009-10, Wright produced the most successful season in the history of the women’s basketball program. The Lady Knights advanced to the NCAA Division II Final Four for the first time in school history. The squad broke the NCAA Division II records for most victories (37) in a season and most consecutive wins (37) in a single season. Along the way, the program won its first-ever PSAC Championship and first-ever NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional before a sold-out crowd at the Hammermill Center. The Lady Knights finished No. 2 in the final USA Today ESPN Division II Top 25 Coaches Poll.
One of the traits of a successful coach is their ability to get teams to play well down the stretch. And the Lady Knights did just that with Wright on the sidelines, winning 72 percent (83-33) of their games in the months of February and March.
Gannon most recently concluded the 2012-13 campaign with a 31-5 record, representing the second-most victories in school history. The Lady Knights won the PSAC Western Division regular-season and the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional titles en route to the program’s second NCAA Division II Elite Eight appearance in the last four seasons. The season eventually came to an end against Ashland in the national quarterfinals, marking Gannon’s third straight NCAA Tournament appearance that ended with a loss against the eventual national champion. The Lady Knights began the 2012-13 season by defeating NCAA Division I programs Kent State and the University of Buffalo in exhibition games.
The final USA Today Sports Division II Coaches Poll placed the Lady Knights sixth nationally. Gannon has been nationally ranked in 27 consecutive polls dating back to the 2011-12 campaign and has received votes in the national poll at some point during each of the last seven seasons.
Wright continues the recent stretch of Gannon basketball coaches making their way to the NCAA Division I level. Former Gannon women’s basketball coach Jodi Kest is currently the head coach at Akron while former Gannon men’s basketball coach Jerry Slocum is the head coach at Youngstown State.
A national search for Gannon’s next head women’s basketball coach will begin immediately.
This article originally published on gannonsports.com on Apr. 19, 2013.