Eric Reveno says goodbye to Pilots basketball

By Malika Andrews | March 16, 2016 8:15pm

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Eric Reveno reacts on the bench during Portland's game against ACU earlier this year. Photo by Kristen Garcia

 

The objects in coach Eric Reveno’s office remained unchanged.

*Yearly as of 2013. Graphic by Hannah Baade

Photos of his team hung on one wall, opposite a row of plaques recognizing his players’ academic accomplishments and on-court honors. But the man in the middle of the office wasn’t the same, his whole world had been turned upside down. So he sat in a familiar place, surrounded by familiar things and did his best to process the shock.

He said the diplomatic things. He said all the things one would expect. Then, he leaned back in his chair, put his head in his hands and let the tears flow.

“I wasn’t a tenured professor. I didn’t earn tenure,” Reveno said. “I earned to be treated right. I earned to be treated with respect. I earned some things, but I didn’t earn a lifetime position. They don’t owe me that.”

The morning of March 15, the men’s basketball coach received an email from Athletic Director Scott Lekyam asking to meet. Shortly thereafter, the University of Portland athletic department announced that Reveno would not return as the men’s basketball coach.

He leaves with a 140-178 record overall, 60-95 in West Coast Conference.

In a press release, Leykam thanked Reveno for his “service, dedication and contributions to the University,” while adding that he had represented UP “with great class on and off the court.”

After years of routines, Reveno, 50, was left in a daze. He no longer needed to run the practice he had planned. He no longer needed to analyze how many hours the Pilots had practiced this season compared to their 20-win seasons earlier in his time as coach. Instead, he had to reassess, asking himself, “What can I do for the players?” He says he then began the awkward process of calling committed recruits to notify them that he wouldn’t be their coach.

“Everything just went, ‘boom, boom, boom’ from there,” Reveno said.

The full magnitude of what had happened didn’t hit home until he told Leykam that the team wouldn’t be able to meet until 4 p.m. to discuss the news. In response, Leykam informed him that the team was in the locker room meeting at that moment.

“So it’s like, you’re no longer in charge of your team,” Reveno said.

The Pilots finished the 2015-16 season with a disappointing record of 12-20, five fewer wins than the 2014-15 campaign. An upset victory over BYU was the season’s highlight, but Portland also suffered two losses to last-place San Diego and multiple blowout losses to Gonzaga, including a season-ending first-round defeat in the WCC Tournament on March 6.

During Reveno’s tenure, the Pilots did make it on the map, if only fleetingly. Reveno, the 2009 WCC Coach of the Year, had a stretch from 2008 to 2011 where the team won a combined 60 games and joined Gonzaga and St. Mary’s in the conference’s top tier. But the team couldn’t make it last.

“I’m disappointed that we did not get over the hump,” Reveno said. “And I’m disappointed that, personally, I did not make that happen. I felt like I was close, closer than anyone ever has been here. And I’m proud of everyone that helped do that.”

Reveno referred to the Pilots’ win-loss record this year as a “practical disappointment” and took ownership for it. He described the conversation with Leykam as a “polite,” “generic” break-up, adding that he requested additional feedback on his performance.

“I said that I look forward to sometime getting some more feedback,” Reveno recalled. “I really get glowing reviews, and I’m proud of that. But at the level we are trying to compete at, it comes down to wins and losses, so there wasn’t much that needed to be said.”

Reveno is the fourth WCC head basketball coach to lose his job in recent months. San Francisco, Santa Clara and Pacific have all let their head coaches go.

Rumors about his future at Portland had hung over Reveno all season, making the nine days after the Pilots were eliminated by Gonzaga feel like an eternity.

“It was a little torturous to wait this long after the last game,” Reveno admitted. “That was hard.” But saying goodbye to his players was the hardest part.

Reveno’s pride in his team is everywhere in his office. The television screen next to his desk usually plays film so that Reveno can review plays and tell his players what they did wrong, what they did well and how they can improve. On Wednesday, the screen was blank, one more sign that the Pilots were no longer his team.

When he addressed them, he told them that everything would be ok.

Co-Captain Alec Wintering said that he values loyalty and is grateful for the chance that Reveno gave him.

“It was an honor to play for coach Reveno and his staff,” Alec Wintering said. “They recruited and gave me an opportunity to play Division I basketball. With that said, I understand it’s a business and I committed to the University of Portland, not just to the head coach.”

Wintering said that the next steps for the program will be finding a coach that can help the team improve on a daily basis that will lead them to a “winning tradition (that gets) fans involved and excited.”

But finding that coach won’t be easy. Reveno fit the campus culture. He balanced athletics while upholding the University’s high academic standards. Each successful school in the conference has found its recruiting niche. UP’s strategy under Reveno’s guidance was international recruiting and dedication to local kids. Recruiting will remain the biggest challenge facing UP’s next coach.

Reveno thinks that the school needs a “Pied Piper”: an ex-NBA player who is high-profile enough to come in and attract the talent needed. Multiple outlets have floated former Blazers guard Terry Porter as a possible candidate.

“No other WCC school has been able to hire a Pied Piper...they come at with a high price tag,” Reveno said. “But then can they fit in here? Are they going to be ok that they get kicked out of the Chiles Center for a luau?”

Reveno is confident the school will do things “the right way” and hire someone who “won’t get in trouble.” Reveno, a Stanford graduate, said he fit in so well on The Bluff because he is hard-wired to win both in basketball and academics.

Recruiting will not be easy for Reveno’s successor. Reveno remembers kids telling him time and again that they were going to choose to go to a school where the academic load was lighter.

UP was special to Reveno. He was the face of the Athletic Department and the first person many think of when at the sounds of “University of Portland Athletics.” He built his legacy here, a legacy that is now hanging on the wall waiting to be put in boxes.

“I’m not vindictive,” Reveno said. “I really wish the university, the kids in particular, I wish them well. I wish the school well. I wish the next coach well. It’s how I poured so much into this, every day, to coach kids like this, to coach players like this, work with people like this, at a school like this. It was a dream opportunity. It was a dream.”

It’s too soon to speculate where Reveno, who was an assistant at Stanford before coming to Portland in 2006 might end up next. Former Pilot Kevin Bailey expects Reveno to land on his feet.

“He’s a fighter,” Bailey said. “You don’t stay at a school for 10 years for no reason. He brings something to the table and I am sure another program will see that.”

The objects in Reveno’s office will be removed before long, all those familiar plaques and photos shoved into boxes. And soon, the familiar face behind the desk will be gone for good, too.

Contact sports editor Malika Andrews at andrewsm17@up.edu or on Twitter @malika_andrews.

Contact editor-in-chief Malika Andrews at andrewsm17@up.edu or Twitter @malika_andrews.
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