College : : Story
Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Wichita State fires legendary coach

Kendall Rogers        

Legendary Wichita State head baseball coach Gene Stephenson was fired after spending 36 seasons with the program.

An emotional Stephenson met with reporters earlier in the day to announce he was fired, while Wichita State University sent out a release Tuesday afternoon announcing that his contract had been terminated.

"I am sorely disappointed about the way this went down," Stephenson told reporters. "I don't think it was handled properly, but it's not up for me to decide. We gave 36 years of our very best here."

Meanwhile, Wichita State Director of Athletics Eric Sexton released this statement about Stephenson's contract termination.

"We have reached a decision to go in a different direction with the leadership of our baseball program," Sexton said. "Following an evaluation of the program as a whole and a presentation of the options, the decision became clear that this is the proper time to move into a new phase of Shocker Baseball."

Stephenson’s dismissal comes as a huge surprise to most in the college baseball industry. Though the Shockers hadn’t reached the NCAA postseason since 2009 before making this year’s postseason by winning the Missouri Valley tournament, Stephenson built the Shockers from the ground up.

Stephenson, who ranks second all-time in coaching wins in college baseball, had 36 very successful seasons with the Shockers. He guided the program to 28 NCAA postseason appearances, seven College World Series appearances (the last in 1996), and the pinnacle of his tenure came in 1989 when the Shockers won the national title.

In the modern era, the Shockers reached the NCAA Super Regional round in 2007 and '08, but failed to reach the College World Series.

Though there's no doubt Wichita State isn't the prestigious program it once was, the long-time Shockers head baseball coach had just one year remaining on his contract, set to expire in July 2014, many believing he should've been allowed to finish it out.

This isn't the first time there's been some drama between Wichita State and Stephenson. Stephenson accepted the head coaching job at the University of Oklahoma in July 2005. However, he essentially pulled out of the position before signing a contract due to perceived scholarship concerns, returning to WSU as head coach.

Stephenson's tenure at Wichita State is finished, but the status of long-time pitching coach Brent Kemnitz remains uncertain. Sexton announced via the press release the Shockers were negotiating with Kemnitz to remain on the coaching staff, but also stated Kemnitz had no desire to be the head coach, and that the rest of the coaching staff outside of Kemnitz was dismissed.

That means the new head coach would have to be fine with Kemnitz being his pitching coach moving forward, assuming Kemnitz agrees to the negotiated deal.

The Shockers now embark on a national coaching search. Though being a member of the Missouri Valley Conference keeps WSU from being considered an elite job on the national stage, it's certainly a good job. The Shockers have a strong financial commitment to the sport, strong history and are again in the process of expanding and renovating Eck Stadium, which seats 7,851 fans.

Potential candidates for the Shockers include Wichita Wingnuts (AA) manager Kevin Hooper, a former Wichita State player, Charlotte head coach Loren Hibbs, a former Wichita State player, Dallas Baptist's Dan Heefner, Kansas State's Brad Hill, considered very much a long shot, Illinois State's Mark Kingston and Tabor College's Mark Standiford, a former Shockers player who has a good reputation in the Wichita, Kan., area.

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