PAINESVILLE, Ohio – Lake Erie College Head Men's Basketball Coach Cliff Hunt announced his retirement on Thursday (April 21).
Storm Director of Athletics Reid Guarnieri also announced that Associate Head Coach Kyle Conley will succeed Hunt as the College's next head coach effective July 1.
"It's been an honor and privilege to have served the last 11 years as head men's basketball coach. I want to thank Lake Erie College for giving me this great opportunity," said Hunt.
In a career that spanned 47 years at the high school and college levels, Hunt won 501 career games including the last 140 at Lake Erie where he is the program's all-time winningest coach. On breaking the 500-win mark Hunt exclaimed, "I didn't realize it until the season was over but it is gratifying. I would have been disappointed if the final number was 499! It would have seemed like there was some unfinished business."
Hunt enjoyed the most success during the Storm's years in Division III having set a program record for wins in a season in 2006-07 (25) and leading the team to three straight AMCC championship games and two NCAA tournament appearances.
Hunt remarked on these years fondly saying, "Every year has been different with some great wins and tough losses. But the highlight has to have been the first few years when we were NCAA D-III. That was a pretty level playing field for us and our teams really responded."
Since making the move to Division II in 2010, the program has shown steady advancements to get to the level of competitiveness it enjoys now. After a rough first year in which the team won three conference games in what is widely considered the premier athletic conference in the nation, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC), Hunt guided the Storm to nine conference wins in 2014-15. This past season was marked by wins over such perennial powers as Grand Valley State University, Hillsdale College, and the University of Findlay.
Hunt said, "As it always is for teams that make that transition, it was an uphill battle. But we have made a lot of progress, had some great wins and I think the program is close to taking the next step. I'm excited for Coach Conley and the team in the next few years and I'm looking forward to some great seasons for them."
Hunt cited the daily demands of being a college coach and the readiness of Coach Conley in choosing to step down now, "It is exactly the right time to step down and let Coach Conley take over. I will miss the players and process of building a team and coaching a team. But I will not miss the grind that is coaching at the NCAA D-II level. People do not understand that coaching is an almost 24/7, 365 days a year job. It dominates all aspects of your life."
"That's fine though, because those of us who do this are passionate about what we do. But it also burns you out a little and you know when it's time to move on," Hunt continued.
Hunt will miss some aspects of that grind, however, "It has been an amazing experience coaching the great, great guys that have been in our program at Lake Erie College. I am so proud of their performance as players and now as adults in the professional world. Being part of our student-athletes growing from high school players to college men was challenging but incredibly rewarding," concluded Hunt.
Conley thanked Hunt for his mentorship and service stating, "I would like to express my deepest thanks and appreciation to Coach Cliff Hunt for all he has done for Lake Erie College, the men's basketball program, and me personally. Coach Hunt has impacted so many student-athletes during his esteemed career and I have been very fortunate to have worked side-by-side with him the last seven years. He has been such a tremendous basketball coach and leader and has prepared me well for the opportunity to become head coach."
Prior to Lake Erie, Hunt spent a total of 24 years as a head coach in the high school ranks at West Geauga and Perry High Schools. He had a winning percentage of .647 in his high school career, leading his teams to 11 sectional championships, eight conference championships, four district championships, two regional championships and two state runner-up finishes. He holds the record for most coaching victories at both Perry and West Geauga, where his teams won 33 consecutive regular season games and an Associated Press Poll championship.
Hunt was voted conference coach of the year eight times, Great Lakes District Coach of the Year five times, Greater Cleveland Coach of the Year four times and was an Ohio Associated Press Coach of the Year. He also coached in several all-star games, including the Ohio North-South game, spoke at numerous coaching clinics and was published in Hooplines Magazine.
A 1969 graduate of Hiram College with a bachelor's degree in sociology education, Hunt was a four-year letter winner and two-time captain and most valuable player in both basketball and track. He has been inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at both Hiram and his high school alma mater of Strongsville. Hunt also has a master's degree in education from Kent State University and resides in Concord with his wife Pam. They have three children, K.C., Kelly and Chad.
As it related to the impending coaching transition, Guarnieri said, "This is a bittersweet day for Storm Athletics. I first want to thank Coach Hunt for his tremendous years of service to the College and compliment his passion in seeing through the success of our men's basketball program. Without him there would not be the foundation that we now have for the future. He has served as a wonderful mentor to Kyle Conley and we are excited that we have the opportunity to have someone within our program to whom he may pass the torch."
On Conley's preparedness for the position Guarnieri stated, "Kyle has sensational experience as a student-athlete and as a coach. In my three years working with him I have been struck by his professionalism, work ethic, and emotional commitment to not only the men's basketball program but Lake Erie College at large. He has sacrificed much and passed on other opportunities in order to sustain and expand the quality of this program."
In accepting the head coach position Conley said, "I am honored and excited to be named the Head Men's Basketball Coach at Lake Erie College. I would like to thank Director of Athletics Reid Guarnieri, Vice President Billie Dunn, and Interim President Peter Gerhart for the opportunity they have given me to lead the men's basketball program going forward. I care deeply for this College and I am thrilled to be its new men's basketball coach. It's a role and responsibility I cherish."
Conley has spent the last seven years as the lead assistant coach on staff and has served as the program's recruiting coordinator. His on-court specialty has included working with the guards and wings and in addition to game preparation Conley has also coordinated the Storm's series of successful summer camps and clinics. He also established and oversees the Storm's strength and conditioning program and coordinated the team's academic program.
Prior to coming to Lake Erie, Conley spent four seasons as an assistant at his alma mater, The University of Findlay. While there, he helped the Oilers to a four-year mark of 112-16, four NCAA Tournament appearances, three GLIAC South Division championships and a pair of GLIAC Tournament championships. The 2005 team reached the Elite Eight and finished the season ranked first in the final NABC Coaches' Poll. In the 2006-07 season, Findlay went undefeated in league play. Conley was also on the Findlay staff for the 2007-08 season when the Oilers knocked off Division I Ohio State in an exhibition game on the Buckeyes' home floor. Prior to earning his degree in business management from Findlay, Conley was a member of the basketball team at Tiffin University. He earned his master's degree in education from Lake Erie.
Conley is excited yet focused on where the program is headed stating, "It is my intent that the Lake Erie College men's basketball program will continue to be centered around quality student-athletes who strive to achieve success both in the classroom and on the court. This program has established a positive culture which stresses a high level of expectation on its players to be great people, students, and teammates. Those expectations will continue to be the foundation for all student-athletes on the Lake Erie men's basketball team."
Points of pride during his time in the program related to Conley's vision include three All-GLIAC nominees, an improved conference win total in five of the last six seasons and an academic record marked by 34 All-Academic recipients and a campus-high men's team GPA in 2014-15.
Conley inherits a team that was 10-18 (7-15 in-conference) who will be competing in its last year in the GLIAC before transitioning to the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (G-MAC) in 2017. The squad graduates six seniors but is primed well with back-to-back highly rated recruiting classes. This year's class is highlighted by two prospects ranked in the Top 40 in Ohio by John Stovall of Prep Spotlight.
Conley forecasted, "Next season, we have a nice mix of experienced players returning and a very talented freshman class coming in. I am looking forward to getting to work with this team and have great expectations for them both on and off the court. I know that we are all eager to build on the positive momentum that has been built in the Lake Erie College men's basketball program."