Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Goodbye to Gene Stephenson

I have been a baseball fan my entire life and have enjoyed the fact we have had a winner in my own backyard in Wichita. WSU baseball is a powerhouse and has fallen off competitively since 2008. I cancelled my season tickets after the 2009 season when there was a noticeable drop off in the quality of the program. After this introspection,  I can add that I am a fair weather fan to my list of many faults.

Gene built the baseball program from the ground up and won on a level that is amazing when you look at his record overall including this season. Gene comes from the old school where you get respect for building something and get a free pass in some ways. He should have seen the writing on the wall with all of the aircraft companies kicking long-term employees to the curb and declining season ticket sales. Gene is the last of a generation that doesn't understand that you can't rest in prior success, last year is the past and it is "what have you done for me lately?" in modern business culture.

Gene is the man as far as building a premier NCAA baseball program out of nothing. Unfortunately, he blame shifted at the end of his career. One example was that the indoor practice facility was built because there was a recruiting barrier and once it was built there were no results to rally the fanbase. The faith of the contributors to the program fell off and probably drove the winds of change. The average fan doesn't realize how they were constrained to recruit a certain number of Kansas residents and even then I don't think there were any full ride scholarships. On top of that, the MLB draft plucked recruits and successful players out of the program and the game changed from the glory days of the 80's and 90's.

I didn't want his tenure as a coach to end like this, but knowing human nature I knew it was inevitable. Gene should have taken a biology course where evolution was introduced and he maybe would have seen that those who adapt survive in the long run. The landscape of college baseball was changing in front of him and he failed to adapt. The powers that be figured that the money they were paying him would motivate him to factor this in. When he didn't for whatever reason that is his problem.

I think it sucks that it had to end this way and more of this rests on Gene for not seeing the trends in collegiate sports and the business world. Once the fiscal year you were successful in is over you have to plan to maintain for the next year. 5 years since the last super regional was generous by business standards to expect a repeat. We wanted a better showing at the regional this year but it was clear the players were no longer on board with the coaching staff.

Gene is a hero to my alma mater Wichita State University and I hope there is reconciliation between the 2 sides so there can be proper respect paid to his contribution to the university.

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