Sooners Thrown a Curve
Gene Stephenson had the one job he'd always wanted. It lasted less than a day.
Just hours after he was introduced as Oklahoma's new baseball coach Monday, Stephenson pulled a shocking turnabout by heading back to the Wichita State program he built from the ground up.
Stephenson issued a statement through the Wichita State athletic department Monday night saying that he would return to the Shockers, who he'd led to more than 1,500 wins, 23 NCAA tournament appearances and a College World Series title in 28 seasons. He blamed "unresolvable" scholarship issues for his decision to leave Oklahoma.
"We are very appreciative for the opportunity to coach at the University of Oklahoma," Stephenson said. "... We have worked over the years at Wichita State in order to use our scholarships and to plan for the use of our future scholarships.
"As we assessed the Oklahoma baseball scholarship situation, we would be too limited in our ability to take the program in the direction that we think it should go."
Stephenson gave up the job at Oklahoma even quicker than he had taken it, only four days after he'd entered athletic director Joe Castiglione's picture as a candidate and less than 12 hours after he was introduced as the new skipper.
"Joe knows I would have liked to have had a few more days to think about it, but this program needs to move on and I felt like this was the right move," Stephenson said at a news conference Monday morning, where he tried on an Oklahoma jersey and cap and repeatedly fought off tears while lamenting the tough choice to leave Wichita State. "I hope it's the right time."
It turned out it wasn't.
Oklahoma officials, including Castiglione, said Stephenson had been made aware of the Sooners' situation before he accepted the job.
"Gene Stephenson is a very fine person and a fine coach and we have to respect his decision and move on with our selection process expeditiously," Castiglione said in a statement.
Stephenson was to replace Sunny Golloway, who took over on an interim basis when Larry Cochell resigned May 1 after using a racial slur during interviews with two ESPN reporters.
It's not unprecedented for a college coach to back out of a job after accepting it.
Dan Dakich quit his job as West Virginia basketball coach a week after being hired and returned to Bowling Green, in part over a possible NCAA rules violation that he uncovered during a chat with Mountaineers players.
In 1999, Jim Harrick took the head basketball job at Georgia. The next day he was back in Rhode Island deciding he wanted to continue coaching the Rams. A day after that he was again coach in Georgia.
Bobby Cremins accepted a basketball job at South Carolina _ his alma mater _ in 1993 only to return to Georgia Tech less than a week later. He retired in 2000.
It also wasn't the first time Stephenson, a Sooners assistant from 1972 to 1977, was considered a candidate at Oklahoma. Stephenson was up for the job in 1990, only a year after he had led Wichita State to the College World Series title, but he stayed with the Shockers. Cochell was hired instead.
"We had just come off a national championship," Stephenson said at the news conference. "We had great, great players in the program and I had just finished a monumental facility fund-raising drive. We were in the midst of trying to put that together and build it. With all those factors, it was a tremendously different scenario than today, meaning that we had a lot of things that we felt like we could accomplish on the field with the players that we had and we also felt like we had tremendous support upcoming, and we had things facility-wise that we still needed to build in order to realize our dreams.
"I'm a guy that likes to go and have a dream and a vision ahead of time about what things can do and what they can become, and then I want to see those develop before we give up, before we quit."
At his introduction Monday, Stephenson called the Oklahoma job "a lifelong dream" and proclaimed that the Sooners could do all he'd done at Wichita State and more.