The path of a college coach can be a winding one. Twists and turns, peaks and valleys — it’s rarely a straight line, whether game-to-game, season-to-season, or at the different stops along the way.
Cleve Wright’s path is no exception to that, but his did take a unique shape this spring as he circled back to Gannon to become the head women’s basketball coach for the Lady Knights for the second time. It wasn’t part of some detailed career plan, but Wright doesn’t doubt the purpose behind the move.
“I’m going to go where the Lord is leading me to go,” Wright said. “He led me away from Gannon six years ago, and he’s led me back here now. If you would have told me this was how it was going to happen, I don’t know that I would have believed you.”
Wright’s first tenure at Gannon saw the team reach unprecedented heights. During those 11 seasons, his teams went 233-100, including two NCAA regional championships and a trip to the Division II national semifinals.
The Erie community poured their support behind those teams, packing the Hammermill Center for PSAC championships and NCAA Atlantic Region tournaments.
Wright’s teams returned that support in kind, as they were a mainstay in community service and fundraising events. They started their Pink Zone event to help local cancer survivors in 2008. In 2011, the team was honored as the the Outstanding Young Philanthropist by the American Fundraising Professionals.
“We love Erie,” Wright said. “Erie is home to me and my family. We came to Erie 17 years ago because of the opportunity at Gannon. Now one of the main reasons we’re coming back to Gannon is because of Erie.”
Wright said the outpouring of support he’s received from the community since his hire was announced in April has served to confirm his decision.
His phone didn’t stop ringing with calls and texts from former players and coaches, including those from players who came before his time at the helm. Those connections were a result of the relationships he built at Gannon and in Erie.
Cleve Wright celebrates after winning the NCAA Atlantic Regional 2013.
And despite a six-year gap where he was head coach at Division I Miami (Ohio) and associate head coach at Division I Eastern Illinois, Wright — and his family — felt right at home the first time they stepped back into the office he occupied for 11 years.
“My youngest daughter, Emma, she got into town at 11:15 at night,” Wright said. “I asked her if she wanted to meet me at the apartment, but she wanted to come see the office first. She walked in and was kind of in awe like, ‘This is where I grew up.’”
When Wright accepted the associate head coach position at Eastern Illinois, it was with the goal of getting back into the head coaching ranks in mind. He also made a decision that he wanted his next stop to be the final one of his career, one where he could see the end of the winding path.
He didn’t know that Gannon would be that place, but that’s all part of the journey.
“When I stand before the Lord, he’s not going to ask me how many wins I had,” he said. “He’s going to ask, ‘How many people did you love?’ To be able to take this platform that was given to me, I don’t understand why anyone would coach for any other reason.”
“I know it’s going to be different this time, because I’m not the same person I was six years ago. But I know that we’re going to be impacting people, and I’m able to be a part of that.”