Former Cal Poly volleyball coach Stevenson dies at 54

Cal Poly head volleyball coach Jon Stevenson was relieved of his duties Sept. 1, 2011, after the university’s investigation into sexual harassment allegations became public.
Cal Poly head volleyball coach Jon Stevenson was relieved of his duties Sept. 1, 2011, after the university’s investigation into sexual harassment allegations became public. The Tribune

Former Cal Poly volleyball coach Jon Stevenson, whose six-year tenure as one of the program’s most successful coaches ended last fall after an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of his players became public, was found dead Sunday in Van Nuys, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office confirmed Tuesday. He was 54.

Stevenson, of Pismo Beach, was pronounced dead at 3:40 p.m. Sunday.

Ed Winter, the assistant chief investigator at the Coroner’s Office, said a cause of death is not known, but an autopsy has been completed. Results are expected in six to eight weeks. The Coroner’s Office did not release further information on Stevenson’s death.

Childhood friend and former beach volleyball partner Mike Dodd said Stevenson died at his sister-in-law’s home.

Dodd received the news Sunday night. He added that he spoke to Stevenson two days before his death, a conversation in which Stevenson revealed that he was in talks to work with UC Santa Barbara volleyball coach Kathy Gregory.

“He was very excited,” Dodd said. “He bought a new car. He finally scheduled a way overdue hip-replacement surgery (for) July 2. He was upbeat and kind of excited to move in a new direction.”

Gregory, who had a nearly 30-year friendship with Stevenson, said she talked to Stevenson about becoming a consultant for the volleyball program at UC Santa Barbara, where he graduated in 1980.

“He was a complicated person,” Gregory said of Stevenson, “who was one of the most brilliant minds in volleyball. He had a passion for it. I respected him for that. I called him a special friend. If I needed him, he’d be there for me. That’s what you hope for in this lifetime, to have friends to be there for you.”

Stevenson’s coaching career took a drastic shift Sept. 1, 2011, when he was dismissed by Cal Poly after a 2010 investigation that accused him of fostering a culture of sexual harassment and intimidation.

The investigation alleged that Stevenson, among other things, pulled one player’s shorts down, made comments about players’ bodies and would “say things like, ‘(Player B) is a crazy sex addict — all she wants to do is party.’ ” The report also detailed an incident in which Stevenson allegedly hugged a player, grabbed her face, kissed her on the cheek and whispered in her ear, “I love you.”

Stevenson’s Cal Poly career ended four matches into the 2011 season. He was replaced by Caroline Walters, who was a third-year assistant.

Stevenson guided the Mustangs to NCAA Tournament appearances in 2006 and 2007. In 2006, Cal Poly won its first Big West Conference title since 1984.

After being inducted into the California Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame and the Professional Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1996, Stevenson began coaching Sonoma State in 2000 and led the Seawolves to a 22-11 record the following year — the highest win total in school history. That was followed by a successful three-year stint at St. Mary’s, where he took the program to an NCAA Tournament regional semifinal appearance.

Stevenson took over the Cal Poly program in 2005, guiding the Mustangs to a 14-win turnaround season.

After his dismissal, Cal Poly paid Stevenson $133,980 and honored 400 hours of vacation time under his prior contract. In return, the former coach was prohibited from initiating contact with any current players, their parents or any other university coaches or athletic department personnel.

On Jan. 20, Cal Poly announced the hiring of former Cal assistant Sam Crosson as the Mustangs’ new coach.