Legendary Santa Clara coach Lou Cvijanovich dies at age 92

Photo: Chuck Kirman/The Star

He was so accomplished, so influential, so legendary, that he’s famously known as “Coach C.”

Lou Cvijanovich, who coached CIF-Southern Section championships in three different sports but is best known for turning the Santa Clara High boys basketball team into a perennial powerhouse, died at age 92 at his Oxnard home Saturday.

Pat Frank, who played for Cvijanovich from 1974-76 and is now the head boys basketball coach at St. Bonaventure High, said he received a text message from son Scott Cvijanovich confirming Lou’s passing.

Ironically, Frank and Mater Dei boys basketball coach Gary McKnight visited with Cvijanovich and his wife Martha on Friday at their home.

“We got our chance to pay our respects,” said Frank. “The family had brought him home in the past week. It was always so good to see him.”

Lou Cvijanovich, left, talks with Mary Mullen during a ceremony in 2012 to name part of Laurel Street in Oxnard to “Coach C Lane.” (Photo: Chuck Kirman/The Star)

The exemplary coach and teacher had been battling cancer for over a decade, Frank said. In recent years, he had also developed a heart condition.

Frank has warm memories of his coach and mentor.

“I’ve always been so close to him and his family, and that’s the way he was,” said Frank. “If you played for him, you were part of his family. That’s a big part of what made him so special.”

Cvijanovich piled up coaching accomplishments that mark him as a singular legend.

He took the reigns of the Santa Clara boys basketball team in 1958 and spent the next 41 seasons, or until 1999, racking up a state-record 829 victories, 30 league championships, 15 Southern Section titles and three state crowns.

The wins total has been surpassed in recent years by Mater Dei’s McKnight.

The Saints won state championships in 1989, 1990 and 1999 and remain the only Ventura County boys basketball program to have reached the state championship game.

Among the Saints’ illustrious alumni are Shon Tarver and Joe Wallace.

There were other sides to his coaching genius.

Cvijanovich was Santa Clara’s head football coach for 17 years and the head baseball coach for 11 years, and regularly guided those programs to the top.

Under his direction, the Saints football team won 104 games, seven league championships and two Southern Section crowns. His baseball teams won 114 games, five league championships and one Section title.

With 18 overall CIF-SS championships, he remains the only coach in California prep history to win section crowns in basketball, football and baseball.

Upon his retirement in 1999, Cvijanovich was elected into the California High School Sports Hall of Fame. He’s also a member of the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame, the California Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the National High School Hall of Fame.

The gymnasium at Santa Clara High was renamed in his honor in 1996. In 2012, he also had street in Oxnard renamed for him. A portion of Laurel Street became “Coach C Lane.”

He loved the street ceremony.

“It’s flabbergasting,” he said at the time. “It’s the second-greatest honor I’ve ever had in my life.”

And the first? As a devout Catholic, he said No. 1 was an apostolic blessing he received from Pope John Paul II in 1983.

At the street-naming celebration, he commented on his coaching success.

“It took a lot of hard work,” he told The Star. “I had a motto: certain sacrifices equal success. That pertains to everyday life, too.”

The Cvijanovich children shared their father’s love of sports. Sam played football, daughter Sherri was the head girls basketball coach at Santa Clara and son Stacey was good enough to play basketball for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

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