When Santa Clara’s boys’ basketball team beat Carpinteria 76-47 on Dec. 8, 1998, it marked win 803 in Lou Cvijanovich’s coaching career, breaking the state record he had shared (briefly) with Abe Abrami of Emery in Emeryville.
The Saints won 26 more games that season, Cvijanovich’s 41st and last as Santa Clara head coach, a season that concluded the same way his first had in 1959 — with a CIF-Southern Section championship.
Cvijanovich ended his coaching career with 829 wins, a record that stood until it was broken several years later by Mike Phelps of Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland and, later, by Mater Dei’s Gary McKnight, the current leader.
(Ironically, McKnight visited with Cvijanovich at the latter’s home just days before the 92-year-old legend died.)
Altogether, Cvijanovich coached Santa Clara to 15 CIF-SS titles in basketball, two in football (1963 and 1965) and one in baseball (1960), the only coach ever to accomplish that feat in the Southern Section’s history. His football teams won 104 games and seven league titles
in 17 years, while his baseball teams won 114 games and five league championships in 11 years.
He also led the Saints to three state boys’ basketball championships (and two runner-up finishes); to 91 straight league victories (1985-95), second most in CIF-SS history; to 13 straight league titles (1985-97); and to 48 straight wins (1988-90).
In Cvijanovich’s first six years as Santa Clara coach, the Saints played in six CIF-SS Division 1-A finals, winning every year but 1962. Later, Santa Clara won titles in 1980, ’81, ’83, and ’85, then reeled off four straight (1989-92) before losing in the 1994 final to Verbum Dei (whom Santa Clara had defeated for the 1990 and 1991 titles).
Cvijanovich concluded his career with three straight finals appearances and two wins (1997 and 1999), the last over Pasadena Poly, 76-52, for the V-AA championship. The 1999 season ended with a 75-68 win over Calvary Temple Christian for Santa Clara’s third state Division V title, with Cvijanovich’s grandson Stefan playing for the Saints alongside CIF-SS co-Players of the Year Nick Jones and B.J. Ward.
In fact, nine Saints’ basketball players were named CIF-SS Player of the Year under Cvijanovich, including his son Stacey (1985). The others were Steve Miller (1960), Andy Herrera (1964), Matt Colburn (1981), Joe Wallace (1983), Shon Tarver (1989 and 1990, later a UCLA star), and Chris Cole (1991).
His career earned Cvijanovich induction into the National High School Hall of Fame in 1997, the California Coaches Association Hall of Fame (1998), the California High School Sports Hall of Fame (1999) and the CIF-Southern Section Hall of Fame (2005).
Mike Nelson is the former editor of The Tidings (predecessor of Angelus News).
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