Salute to “Big Lou” Cvijanovich

There’s an exclusive group of high school boys basketball coaches in the history of California who’ve won 600 games or more. It’s a smaller group when you get to 800 and an even smaller group of those who’ve actually been the winningest in state history.

Count Lou Cvijanovich, who coached at Santa Clara of Oxnard from 1958 to 1999, in that smallest category. One of the most legendary coaches in Ventura County history in any sport, Cvijanovich died last Saturday at age 92 in the Oxnard home he shared with his wife, Martha.

The news broke on social media on Saturday afternoon, initially from current St. Bonaventure of Ventura head coach Pat Frank, who is a close friend of the Cvijanovich family.

More Than a Coach, a biography of Lou Cvijanovich, is a book written several years ago by Thomas S. Johnson. Photo: Ebay.com.


A tweet from the school later in the day said: “With heavy hearts, the Santa Clara High School community mourns the passing of legendary coach, Lou Cvijanovich. Coach C was a mentor, teacher and friend to so many.”

Upon his retirement in 1999, Cvijanovich was the winningest boys coach in state history with a total of 829 victories. He also retired with three CIF state titles, 15 CIF Southern Section championships and 30 league titles. In addition to basketball, Cvijanovich coached for several seasons in football and baseball and he won CIFSS crowns once in those other sports as well.

Based on our own Cal-Hi Sports state coaching records (they don’t exist anywhere else), it was sometime in the early 1990s when Cvijanovich surpassed the 650 wins by former Compton and Palm Springs coach Bill Armstrong for the top total in state history. It may have been reported later with a different win total for Armstrong, but additional research revealed there had been some JV wins on Armstrong’s total.

After Cvijanovich retired in 1999, it took four years for Oakland Bishop O’Dowd’s Mike Phelps to move past the 829 total. Phelps’ career ended shortly afterward at 843, and that total was surpassed several years ago by current Santa Ana Mater Dei head coach Gary McKnight, who is now over 1,100 all-time wins.

According to a story in the Ventura County Star, McKnight visited with Cvijanovich on Friday for one hour since his team was playing in Santa Barbara. Pat Frank also visited on Friday.

When Cvijanovich was honored with a Hall of Fame award by the California Coaches Association in 1998, we were lucky to be sitting next to him. On the same night, Cal-Hi Sports founder Nelson Tennis was selected as the first-ever recipient of the Edmond Strelow Media Award. Big Lou gave Nelson a pep talk before Nelson had to get up and say a few words, which was something he wasn’t comfortable with. We all thought Nelson did great.

In the last few years, several others have surpassed the 829 win total that Cvijanovich retired with. Judging from the reaction of the impact he had on his players and community, however, that was just a microscopic slice of the man’s life.

California High School Boys Basketball Coaches
With 800 Or More All-Time Wins

(Before start of current season)
(All according to Cal-Hi Sports)
For the complete Gold Club list of everyone who is above 600 all-time wins, CLICK HERE.
To join our Gold Club to see more state records plus all weekly state rankings, CLICK HERE.

1,107 – Gary McKnight, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 1983-2018 (1,107-105) (current)
906 – Mike LeDuc, La Verne Damien, 1980-86, 2016-18 & Glendora, 1987-1992, 1994-2015 (906-238) (current)
876 – Ed Azzam, Los Angeles Westchester, 1980-2018 (876-271) (current)
852 – Don Lippi, Alameda St. Joseph, 1980, Vallejo St. Patrick-St. Vincent, 1982-86, Oakland Skyline, 1987-1990, San Francisco St. Ignatius, 1991-2003 & Alameda St. Joseph, 2004-2018 (852-265) (current)
843 – Mike Phelps, Alameda St. Joseph, 1971-78 & Oakland Bishop O’Dowd, 1979-1990, 1992-2003 (843-196)
832 – Tom Orlich, South Lake Tahoe, 1976-2000 & Fresno Clovis West, 2003-2016
829 – Lou Cvijanovich, Oxnard Santa Clara, 1959-1999 (829-261)
823 – Harvey Kitani, San Fernando, 1980, & Los Angeles Fairfax, 1982-2016 &
San Pedro Rolling Hills Prep, 2018 (823-271) (current) (+1 win by forfeit)
803 – Willie West, Los Angeles Crenshaw, 1971-2007 (803-140)
802 – Abe Abrami, Emeryville Emery, 1955-1993

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle:


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