Dave and Cheryl Rose had just finished lunch at Centro Woodfired Pizza in Cedar City, one of their all-time favorite places to eat. The two were on their way home to Provo after cleaning out their St. George vacation home Dave had decided to sell on a whim. (He describes it as a “we” decision, but Cheryl’s tears all the way from St. George to Cedar City told a different story.)
As they pulled back onto I-15 heading north, Dave turned to her and said, “I need to talk to you about something, but the topic makes me emotional.”
Cheryl’s heart sank. “I hadn’t been very nice that weekend because I was sad and sentimental about selling the house. I was nervous about what he had to tell me.”
Her cancer-surviving husband then revealed that he wanted to retire as head basketball coach of BYU. Cheryl sensed his commitment to the decision and the emotion it took for him to arrive at it. Now her tears were falling again, but this time it wasn’t about a getaway spot in Southern Utah. She knew their life was about to change. For 50 years, basketball was all they had known. Dave played in the Final Four in 1983. Then he coached high school, junior college and ultimately Division I basketball. As a family, the Roses’ favorite sound had always been sneakers on wood floors.
But Dave had a plan for next season. And surprisingly, it had more to do with a swim meet in Arizona than two halves in the Marriott Center.
The End of the 14th
On the last Sunday night in March 2019, BYU’s basketball team got word they had not been invited to the NIT. This was the first time in Dave Rose’s 14 years as head basketball coach that his team hadn’t had a post-season invitation to either the NCAA or NIT.
The season was over and the clock immediately started ticking for next season.
But Dave had other pressures bouncing on his heart. His granddaughter was competing that weekend in Arizona at a swim meet, and he wanted to watch her glide through the pool instead of go on the recruiting trip he was supposed to take. He processed the pros, the cons, the cause, the effect — just like his logical mind was apt to do. His approach to coaching involved his mind, his body and his soul. The first two were still solidly on the court. But his soul was being pulled other ways.
“I wanted to go with my family to watch my granddaughter compete in the pool, and I wanted it more than I wanted to recruit,” Dave says.
Although fans felt his decision was because of his sub-par record this past season, there was much more going on behind the bench — including his own fight with mortality, his dying father, his talented grandchildren, and ultimately just a feeling that the play clock was over.
And yes, he made it to the swim meet in Arizona.
On March 26, BYU called a press conference so Dave could officially announce the end of his 14 years as head coach. Nearly a month later, he sat down with Utah Valley Magazine to discuss his retirement. But his senior citizen days have yet to look like lazy days on the golf course or sipping smoothies on beaches. In fact, his focus quickly turned to being on the sideline with his father who was on his fourth bout with cancer. When Dave hung up his whistle and clipboard, he immediately took on the hard task of helping his father prepare to die.
Cheryl said to Dave as he swapped courtside for bedside, “Just one week ago, you were living a glamorous life, and now you are here in the thick of really hard things. Do you have any regrets about not being the coach anymore? Do you wish you were back in the spotlight, living your dream?”
Dave did not have one regret. He was exactly where he wanted to be, taking care of his parents.
“That’s when I knew he was not going to wake up at any point and wish he had his old life back,” she says. “The first week off was anything but glamorous.”
Almost immediately after Dave made changes to their gameplan, Cheryl saw the weight lift off his shoulders.
“I realized I was going to get my guy back!” Cheryl says. “Now when he smiles, it’s a genuine smile. When he laughs, it’s a genuine laugh. When he’s talking to me, he’s not thinking of the 20 other things he needs to do. He is funny again — but actually he was kinda funny before, too.”
Matchup with Cancer
Dave’s life-defining — and nearly life-ending — moment came in 2009 in a Las Vegas hospital where nobody knew him and there was a lot more on the line than an NCAA berth. He was bleeding internally and the outlook was bleak. And urgent. The doctors prepared Cheryl for the possibility that Dave wouldn’t make it.
“It turned into one of those dramatic doctor moments you see on TV,” Cheryl says. “They were rushing him into surgery, and I grabbed the doctor’s lapels and said, ‘You have to save this man! He is an amazing father, husband and friend. His parents need him. You have to save him!’”
As Cheryl waited impatiently for the outcome of the procedure, she replayed that scene in her mind and realized not once had she told this doctor her husband was a basketball coach.
“I’ve always thought coaching is what he does for a living, but it’s not who he is. He is so much more than that,” Cheryl says. “The amount of respect and love I have for this man is pretty incredible.”
Dave’s identity not being bound by basketball has made the retirement process easier for the family.
“Dave has no idea how many games he has won,” Cheryl says. “He didn’t care that he was so many wins off of Stan Watts’ record. Those things don’t matter to either of us.”
Dave and Cheryl are on the same page about what really matters. And cancer gave them an exclamation mark on that approach as well.
“We coached for 10 years after a life-changing diagnosis and prognosis,” Dave says. “I have bi-annual scans and other procedures as the doctors at Huntsman manage my cancer. In some ways, this is the bigger part of my story than basketball, but I don’t want it to be.”
Dave’s decision to retire came quickly and decisively. After privately and publicly announcing his plans and his reasons, he went through the play-by-play of packing up 14 years as head coach and 22 total years at the university. The last bin he filled was from his locker in the Marriott Center.
“My son and I got our tears out while Dave was in the locker room,” Cheryl says. “This moment had such a sense of finality as we realized all the things we would miss as a family.”
After Dave closed his locker, he met his family back at his office to roll everything out. As they walked through the chilly March air, Dave wondered if he had enough room in his car for all of his mementos. But he mostly thought about what an amazing chapter he was finishing.
“I flashed back to the day I had walked into the press conference where I was named head coach,” he says. “That day was so emotional because of the expectations and the tradition, as well as who we represent and what we represent as a team from this university. I wondered how it would all play out and how long I would be able to be here. What kind of success would we have?”
With one last glance at the Marriott Center and the adjacent annex, Dave felt at peace.
“Yes, we could’ve done more — and I wish we would’ve done a little bit more,” he says. “But we had incredible experiences. I thought about the way we were treated and the way players responded to us. You know what? It’s hard to win. You don’t just put on a whistle and win. You’ve got to have a lot of things go right, and my guys gave me everything they had. A lot of things went right for us here.”
Perhaps the only thing they won’t miss is “the referees,” Dave and Cheryl answer in unison.
But Cheryl is quick to say the referees won’t miss the Rose family either.
“We liked to help them do their jobs,” she laughs.
The morning after he took off his whistle, Dave slept in slightly longer than normal. Then he headed back to appear on SportsNation at the BYU Broadcasting Building.
“It actually felt like a normal day until the afternoon when I needed to finish up a few things and meet with some guys, and I started to say, ‘I’ll meet you in my … I’ll meet you in the head basketball coach’s office.”
Dave will be known for his winning teams and his percentages, but his legacy also includes the basketball annex east of the Marriott Center where the players practice and the coaches have offices. Dave sat on couch after couch of potential donors to raise money for the facility. Cheryl was ecstatic that she was included in the design of the building’s interior.
Initially, Dave had two choices for an office. Cheryl encouraged him to take the one with a view of the bell tower and BYU landscape.
“I thought he could use some fresh air,” she says.
He chose the one overlooking the court, and he filled it with the ball from his 300th win, Coach of the Year trophies from the MWC, national awards, a picture of Jimmer on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the poster of his Final Four as a player, and the shovel from the groundbreaking of the annex.
“From my office, I could see the early morning extra work that guys were putting in, or late at night I would see some of the guys getting shots up,” he says.
All of the memories made his final steps out of the building both beautiful and heart-wrenching — for both Dave and Cheryl.
“I looked at the marble and remembered the three places in Salt Lake we went to find just the right slab,” Cheryl says. “I looked up at the wood on the ceiling that I had envisioned to create a basketball-court vibe throughout the building. Part of our heart will always be in that building.”
Happy Valley, Happy Life
Dave’s commute from his front door to BYU took three minutes and involved two stoplights — which turned into five minutes if he didn’t hit the green lights quite right. Provo has been a happy place for the Roses and their three children and now eight grandchildren.
“Whenever I would fly into Salt Lake or the Provo airport and drive toward my house, I never thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to come back to this place,’” Dave says. “In contrast, there were a lot of places I went where I felt like, ‘Oh my gosh, I wish I didn’t have to recruit here again or play those guys again.’ Provo has always felt comfortable. And I feel inspired when I come back home.”
Cheryl loved living close enough to BYU that Dave could slip away to watch a dance festival at his daughter’s elementary school, for example. It’s been a beautiful, simple-as-possible life for the family. But from the beginning, they also knew what a rare and weighty opportunity they were taking on.
“In 2005 when Dave came home from campus and told me he had been offered the head coaching job, I was so excited — and he was sitting there with a somber face,” Cheryl says. “I asked him why he wasn’t excited, and he told me, ‘Cheryl, this is a big thing. It’s going to change our family.’”
In characteristic Dave fashion, he was processing all of the changes and the time he would be spending away from the family. He explained what this really meant and the weight their family would carry.
“Every head coaching position is a huge responsibility,” Dave says. “But here you have to represent the university and the church. So many people are watching, which I love. It would be no fun to coach someplace where nobody cared.”
When Cheryl became Mrs. Head Coach, she had a memorable chat with Patti Edwards, the ultimate sidekick who had stood by LaVell’s side for three decades of coaching at BYU. Patti suggested Cheryl connect with other coaches’ wives who came into town to play against the Cougars, so Cheryl started giving gifts to the wives who came to Provo to support their husbands in the Marriott Center.
Cheryl also craved sisterhood with the wives of the other BYU coaches.
“When the team played out of town, we would gather at one of the houses and watch the games, and the kids would all be there,” she says.
Relationships Last, Stats Don’t
Just as LaVell Edwards told Utah Valley Magazine when he retired after the 2000 football season, Coach Rose also knows he’ll treasure relationships far more than the stat sheet. As Dave’s retirement hit Twitter and KSL, players texted, called, emailed and showed up to say thanks.
“I felt like I knew all the guys and what they were thinking, but now they started texting, emailing and calling me to tell me how they really think and feel,” Dave says. “It was nice to have them communicate that to me. They knew I cared about them as a person. And I did. And I still do. We’ve celebrated with them during the great times, and we also want to be there when they need extra help.”
The Roses have been to countless mission farewells, homecomings, wedding receptions and wedding ceremonies. They supported the boys, and the boys supported them by lacing up.
“Basketball helped them be accountable and disciplined every day. No matter what happened yesterday, today is a new day,” he says. “Those are life lessons they took off the court.”
While each of the 14 seasons had its own highlights (and lowlights), the Jimmer era was the most headline-worthy. No. 32 was named the National Player of the Year, and the team went to the Sweet 16. Dave tells of that team playing at TCU, where BYU had twice as many fans as the home team. After the game, crazed fans with Sharpies waited for a glimpse of Jimmer’s smile.
“I couldn’t get him to put his head down and just walk through the tunnel of fans. He wanted to interact and sign everything. Luckily this was before everyone took selfies on smartphones,” Dave says. “It took Jimmer 30-40 minutes to get 300 feet onto the bus. When he got on, all the other players were standing on their chairs, asking Jimmer for his autograph as he walked to the back of the bus. They were mocking him, but just having fun.”
From sideline to spectator
The Roses look forward to watching their friends coach around the country — without playing against them. They want to continue cheering on the Cougars.
“The best part is I can eat dinner before the games now — I’ve always been too nervous to eat before,” Cheryl says. “And if we didn’t win, nobody ate dinner afterwards either.”
Being 61 without a full schedule will be an adjustment for Coach. He says he’s not a great golfer. He likes to catch fish, but he doesn’t like the slow parts of casting a rod.
“Dave has never had time for hobbies,” Cheryl says. “He’s been breaking down film, working his guys out and figuring out how to make them better.”
The grandchildren were initially sad about the retirement because they were worried they would lose their tickets to the Marriott Center, Nike swag and pizza after the games.
“We’ve assured them that somehow, we’ll still probably be able to provide all three,” Cheryl laughs. “The grandkids have cheered their grandpa on, so now it’s our turn to be their biggest cheerleaders.”
Changing of the whistle
The Roses are thrilled for Mark Pope to take over the program as head coach.
“They want to build this program and take it further,” Dave said of the Popes.
“The bottom line is that coaching at BYU is an amazing job,” Dave says. “We got to be part of something much bigger than ourselves. And now we’re excited to move forward and see what’s next — and not miss any swim meets.”