Having established the Cal Poly men's basketball team as the Big West Conference’s elite defensive program and with the Mustangs enjoying their most successful period in the Division I era, Joe Callero is in his ninth season as head coach.
Under Callero, Cal Poly’s 59 Big West victories rank as the highest total over an eight-year period in program history while the team’s 111 total wins rank as the highest eight-year total in 25 seasons.
The Big West’s dominant defensive program, Cal Poly has led the conference in fewest points allowed per game during five of the last seven seasons while ranking as one of the nation’s top 40 defensive programs in four of the last seven years.
Also one of the nation's most efficient squads, Cal Poly has averaged just 9.62 turnovers per game during the past five seasons – the lowest figure among 347 Division I programs. Additionally, Cal Poly has led the Big West during the previous six years with a combined 1.24-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Cal Poly’s notable achievements continued last season under Callero. The Mustangs finished 20th among NCAA Division I programs with just 10.7 turnovers per game, blocked the highest number of shots during Callero’s tenure (113) and defeated both Big West regular season champion UC Irvine and Big West Tournament champion UC Davis.
Through Callero’s direction, Cal Poly’s finish to the 2013-14 season ranked as one of the most notable athletics achievements in university history. The first and only No. 7 seed in the 42-year history of the Big West Conference Tournament to claim the crown, Cal Poly swept aside second-seeded UC Santa Barbara, No. 1 UC Irvine and fifth-seeded CSUN to earn the program’s first Big West championship and first NCAA Division I Tournament berth. At the NCAA Tournament First Four, the Mustangs topped fellow No. 16 seed Texas Southern to record the program’s first postseason win in 32 years and one of only three NCAA Tournament victories by a Big West program in the last 12 seasons. Despite falling to top-seeded Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament second round, Cal Poly finished the 2013-14 season ranked fifth nationally in fewest turnovers per game (8.9) and 37th in points allowed per game (63.6).
With a reputation for refining talent, Callero – who coached NBA champion Brian Scalabrine at USC (1998-99) – has helped produce 13 professional players from Cal Poly. In February 2017, guard David Nwaba became the first Mustang in Cal Poly’s Division I era to sign with an NBA franchise, inking a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers and making 20 appearances (Nwaba was later picked up by the Chicago Bulls in July 2017). Among Cal Poly’s other recent professional successes, guard Kyle Odister (2009-14) helped Sheffield Sharks to the 2016 British Basketball League title, guard Drake U'u (2009-13) lifted Perth Wildcats to the 2014 Australia National Basketball League championship and guard Amaurys Fermin (2009-12) was named 2013 Rookie of the Year in the Dominican Republic national league.
Cal Poly has produced 11 All-Big West selections under Callero while, in 2014, Chris Eversley became the first Big West Tournament Most Valuable Player selection in program history.
Under Callero, Cal Poly regularly plays the nation’s elite teams in elite venues and features on national television. In eight previous seasons under Joe Callero, Cal Poly has played in 20 different states, competed in 13 arenas that have hosted NCAA Tournament games and visited nationally ranked opponents such as Arizona, UCLA, Gonzaga, Texas A&M, San Diego State, Pitt and Wisconsin.
During the past four seasons, Cal Poly has made 50 television appearances – including two as part of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Cal Poly has hosted three nationally televised ESPNU home games from Mott Athletics Center during the last four years and sold out every seat in the house each time.
Under Callero, Cal Poly is 60-42 inside Mott Athletics Center. Between the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons, Cal Poly won 16 straight Big West Conference home games.
In the classroom, the Mustangs have performed exceptionally under Callero’s guidance with all 23 senior players during the previous six seasons earning degrees. For the 2014-15 academic year, Cal Poly received a perfect 1,000 Academic Progress Rate scores from the NCAA.
Setting the stage for Cal Poly’s 2013-14 championship season was a 2012-13 Mustang squad that set program records for Big West victories (12) and Big West winning percentage (.667) en route to a second successive Big West Tournament semifinal appearance. An overall 18-win total helped Cal Poly match or exceed its victory total from the previous year for the fourth successive season (a feat not accomplished for 41years). The 2012-13 Mustangs also finished 13-1 inside the Mott Athletics Center to set Division I program records for home victories, fewest home losses and home winning percentage (.929). In toppling No. 11 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, the Mustangs chalked up their first victory against a ranked opponent and, as part of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, Cal Poly played the program's first postseason game in 27 years. Cal Poly also finished second nationally in fewest turnovers per game (9.4) and fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.46-to-1).
Cal Poly finished the 2011-12 season ranked among Division I basketball’s top-25 defensive programs for a second successive year. Along the way, Cal Poly produced an 18-win season, reached the Big West Tournament semifinals for the first time in five years and, during a 100-54 victory against Cal State Northridge, the Mustangs sank their first 11 three-point attempts to match a 25-year-old NCAA record.
Selected to finish fifth in the Big West standings during the 2010-11 season, Cal Poly instead matched single-season program records for highest showing in the Big West (second) and highest seeding for the conference tournament (second). The Mustangs also cemented their status as a defensive powerhouse by finishing third among NCAA Division I programs in opponent three-point percentage and sixth in opponent points per game.
Callero’s initial 2009-10 season at Cal Poly yielded one of the top single-year turnarounds in program history. In orchestrating a five-win improvement from the previous year, Callero also directed the Mustangs to their best start to any Big West season (5-2). Predicted to finish last in the standings, Cal Poly clinched the No. 6 seed for the Big West Tournament and capped the year by winning the program's first conference tournament game in three seasons.
Named head coach of Cal Poly on April 3, 2009, Callero has developed a reputation for revitalizing programs. As head coach at Seattle (2001-09), Callero directed the Redhawks to 75 victories during his final four seasons and successfully led the program through its Division I transition. Callero's final 2008-09 season with the Redhawks produced a 21-8 campaign and the program's highest winning percentage in 45 seasons. Additionally, the 2008-09 Seattle squad – as an independent program – finished No. 131 out of 347 Division I programs in the final Sagarin Ratings.
Under Callero, Seattle finished the 2006-07 season with a 20-9 record, a Great Northwest Athletic Conference title and the program's first berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament in 38 years. During just his second season at Seattle (2002-03), Callero directed the Redhawks to a 16-11 finish that was the program's first winning campaign in nine seasons and a 10-victory improvement upon the previous year.
Prior to success at Seattle, Callero guided Division III University of Puget Sound to a combined 22-25 record during the 1999-00 and 2000-01 seasons. The Loggers finished 14-10 during his final season to secure the program's first winning campaign in nine years.
Before pointing Puget Sound in a winning direction, Callero served the 1998-99 season as an assistant coach at USC. During his one season in Los Angeles, Callero assisted the Trojans to the NIT.
A prominent figure on the northwest basketball scene for more than two decades, Callero compiled a 130-49 mark during two three-season stints at Highline Community College (1989-92, 1995-98) and, before departing for USC, helped guide the Thunderbirds to successive Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges championships.
Callero twice earned conference Coach of the Year praise after Highline posted a combined 63-2 mark during the 1996-97 and 1997-98 campaigns.
Between successful stints at Highline Community College, Callero served as the head coach and as a guidance counselor at Sumner HS (1992-95). Under Callero, Sumner also posted its first winning campaign in six years.
A 1986 graduate of Central Washington with a bachelor's degree in psychology, Callero helped guide the Wildcats to consecutive NAIA National Championship appearances. The point guard and captain of Central Washington's 1985-86 squad received his master's degree in education from Seattle in 1991. One of 16 children, Callero is a graduate of Enumclaw HS.
Callero, his wife, Erika, and daughter, Malia, reside in nearby Arroyo Grande.