By Will Kimmey
July 10, 2005
In a shocking move, Gene Stephenson will leave the Wichita State program he built into a national power during the last 28 years to fill Oklahoma’s vacancy. Long-time assistants Brent Kemnitz and Jim Thomas will join Stephenson, leaving a gaping hole for the Shockers to fill once the Sooners make the official announcement Monday.
"The hardest thing I've had to do my whole life is leave Wichita State," said Stephenson, a 59-year-old Oklahoma native. "I poured my heart and soul into that program for 28 years. I always said there was only one job I would even consider, and I mean anywhere, and that's the University of Oklahoma.
"I grew up in Guthrie and was always a Sooner fan. I turned down an opportunity at the OU job in 1990, and I knew when I was contacted this time that this would be my last chance. I want to try and make this program all that I think it can be."
With a career record of 1,506-489-3, Stephenson’s .754 winning percentage leads all active coaches, and he ranks second to Texas’ Augie Garrido in career victories. He led Wichita State to the 1989 College World Series title, made seven trips to Omaha and earned 23 NCAA tournament berths.
“I feel a series of different emotions at the same time,” Wichita State athletics director Jim Schaus said. “First of all, I’m sad to be losing a coach of Gene Stephenson’s character. I appreciate so much all that he has done over his exemplary 28 years. He has put WSU and Shocker baseball on the map. He is truly one of the greatest coaches in college baseball.”
Stephenson began his coaching career at Oklahoma assistant under Enos Semore in 1972. He left in 1977 to help resurrect a Wichita State program that had been idle since 1970. Stephenson won more than 40 games in every year of his tenure at WSU, topping 50 wins 18 times after earning 51 victories in 2005. Stephenson’s success wasn’t restricted to on-field activities and recruiting, as his marketing and fund raising skills helped build and then revamp Eck Stadium, one of the nation’s top facilities.
“One of the greatest coaches in the history of college baseball is coming home in many respects," Oklahoma athletics director Joe Castiglione said. “Obviously, we are delighted that Gene has accepted the position. His record speaks for itself.
“The victories, the championships and the outstanding players he developed are all very impressive, but the thing that strikes me is his passion for the game, the impact he continues to make on the sport and the impact he can have on Oklahoma. From facilities to promoting college baseball, Gene made the game a happening at Wichita State. He is a man who engenders support and loyalty.”
Stephenson’s departure leaves Wichita State at a crossroads. It has not advanced to Omaha since 1996, so it’s more a national contender now than a national power, and Stephenson’s de facto proclamation of Oklahoma as a greener pasture does not add to the luster.
Still, the facilities, fan support and potential paycheck should make this an attractive job opening. Sunny Golloway, a finalist for the Oklahoma job after serving as interim coach upon Larry Cochell’s May 1 resignation, already has voiced an interest in leading WSU.