Former Cal Poly volleyball head coach Jon Stevenson, one of the most successful coaches in his six years with the program, was found dead Sunday in a Van Nuys home, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office. Stevenson was 54.
While an autopsy has been performed, the cause of death will take several weeks to determine.
The coach was relieved of his duties in September 2011 amid a 2010 report — which surfaced following a public records request — detailing alleged sexual harassment of his players. In the report, players accused Stevenson of alleged inappropriate conduct. It concluded that he had acted “unprofessionally” regarding his coaching duties.
When the report first came out, then athletics director Alison Cone decided to retain Stevenson as head coach, with some restrictions to the amount of contact he could have with his players. But, just four matches into the 2011 season on Sept. 1, Stevenson was formally dismissed.
“It’s unfortunate it had to end that way, but I still think the good things that he did for the program outweigh what he was accused of doing there,” former Cal Poly volleyball player Chelsea Hayes said. “I think in time the good memories stay and I don’t think the bad things that happened at the end will hold much weight.”
After interim head coach Caroline Walters took over following Stevenson’s dismissal, Sam Crosson was named the new head coach of the Cal Poly volleyball team in January.
Cal Poly paid Stevenson $133,980, most of the salary he was to receive this year, and gave him hundreds of due vacation hours as part of the separation agreement.
Stevenson had led the Mustangs since 2005, earning NCAA Tournament berths in 2006 and 2007. He guided Cal Poly to its first Big West Conference title since 1984.
Hayes, a current professional beach volleyball player, heard the news of Stevenson’s death on Monday and it came as a shock. The two had plans of reuniting on the professional beach volleyball circuit and had talked about their future on the beach recently.
“We were talking about training on the beach together,” Hayes said. “We had plans for that this next week. I’m just shocked.”
Stevenson was a professional beach volleyball player for 16 years before he began his college coaching career with Sonoma State in 2000. In 1983, he became one of the founding members of the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP), served on the organization’s Board of Directors from 1984-95 and was named Executive Director in 1995, according to the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour Facebook page.
Stevenson experienced success throughout his volleyball career, winning several prestigious awards such as the 1989 AVP Defensive Player of the Year and was inducted into the California Beach Volleyball Association Hall of Fame in 1986.
He led Sonoma State to its best record in program history in 2001, before making the move to Saint Mary’s and coaching the Gaels to the 2003 NCAA Tournament. When Stevenson joined Cal Poly, he helped establish the Mustangs as a powerhouse on the west coast. He directed the team to a 115-61 overall record and went 66-26 in Big West Conference play.
“He was known for turning around programs and coming to schools that were struggling with their volleyball teams and making a huge impact really quickly,” Hayes said. “He put Cal Poly back on the map as far as volleyball is concerned and I think (Cal Poly) will stay there for a while.”
Hayes began her collegiate volleyball career at Saint Mary’s in Stevenson’s final year of tenure there and, by coincidence, joined the coach at Cal Poly in 2005 for her sophomore campaign. She currently plays on the Jose Cuervo Pro Beach Volleyball Series and in the National Volleyball League (NVL).
At Cal Poly, many coaches within the department are in disbelief from the death.
“He took the team to national 25 rankings consistently in his first years. The excitement around the program was contagious and they often packed Mott Gym with screaming fans,” women’s assistant basketball coach Kerri Nakamoto said.
All-American senior and middle hitter Jennifer Keddy said he was a great coach and she wouldn’t be where she is now without him.
“I am truly grateful and honored that I was able to be coached by him,” Keddy said. “Even though it was only for a short time.”
Brittany Woodard and Stephan Teodosescu contributed to this article