For all but the first of the 15 years Cal Poly men’s basketball had been at the Division I level, Kevin Bromley had been a coach for the Mustangs.
That changed entering the 16th year, when athletic director Alison Cone informed Bromley on March 16 that the final year of his three-year contract would be bought out using non-state funds.
Joe Callero, formerly the head coach at Seattle University, took Bromley’s place April 3 by signing a five-year contract worth about $180,000 per year — a figure similar to what Bromley made.
The decision to change coaches — The Tribune’s No. 1 San Luis Obispo County sports story of 2009 — came on the heels of a 7-21 season that included a 3-13, last-place mark in Big West Conference play. The Mustangs were the only conference team that didn’t advance to the Big West tournament.
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Callero was 117-105 at Seattle, a program that in recent years has steadily risen up the college ranks and went 21-8 in Callero’s final season there, the Redhawks’ first year of transition into Division I. It was Seattle’s best winning percentage in 45 years. Callero had previously led Puget Sound to its first winning campaign in nine years.
“The history I have is going into programs and making history,” Callero said at his introductory news conference.
Callero’s track record will be further put to the test at Cal Poly, which has never qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
“He understands that we need to build a program,” Cone said of Callero at the time of his hiring. “We’re not building for a one-time team.”
Many of the same challenges Bromley faced — such as recruiting to a rigorous academic school in an isolated locale, and attempting to lure big-ticket teams to visit 49-year-old Mott Gym — remain obstacles.
From 1995 until 2001, Bromley served as a Mustangs assistant under Jeff Schneider. Soon after Schneider resigned midway through the 2000-01 season, Bromley was promoted from interim status to head coach, going on to compile a 99-145 record.
Bromley’s run wasn’t without bright spots, though. During his inaugural year as full-time head coach, the Mustangs upset Oregon State in Mott Gym. Two seasons later, there were similar victories over fellow Pac-10 programs Cal and USC. In 2006-07, the Mustangs won a school Division I-record 19 games, falling in the Big West tournament final for the second time in school history (the first was in 2003).
“I thought we made great strides,” Bromley told The Tribune after being let go. “I really helped the program develop some type of solid base. I’m proud of that.”