Wichita State begins new chapter after firing long-time head coach Stephenson
Wichita State baseball coach Gene Stephenson was fired on Tuesday after a 36-year career that produced future major leaguers such as Joe Carter and Casey Blake and included the school's only national championship.
Stephenson won more games during his tenure than any other Division I program and his career record of 1,837-675-3 leaves him with the second-most victories among major college coaches.
''We have reached a decision to go a different direction with the leadership of our baseball program,'' athletic director Eric Sexton said in a statement issued by the school. ''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.''
Sexton had met with the 67-year-old Stephenson on Monday and reportedly gave him an ultimatum to either resign or be fired. Stephenson met briefly with reporters at Eck Stadium on Tuesday and said that he had been forced out with a year remaining on his contract.
''I am sorely disappointed about the way this went down,'' Stephenson said. ''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.''
They were 36 years unlike the program had ever known.
Wichita State scuffled along for more than two decades before disbanding the program after the 1970 season. When the school decided to restart it in 1977, its administration looked toward the recruiting coordinator and hitting coach at powerhouse Oklahoma to put everything together.
Stephenson only needed three years -- and the signing of Carter, a three-time All-American -- to get Wichita State to the NCAA tournament for the first time. Two years later, the Shockers played in their first College World Series, losing to Miami (Fla.) in the national championship game.
The school won 73 games that year, setting an NCAA record for a single season.
Wichita State ultimately won 20 conference championships and made 28 appearances in the NCAA tournament under Stephenson, with seven trips to the College World Series. The Shockers reached the pinnacle of college baseball by defeating Texas in the 1989 national championship game.
The program had been on a skid the past couple of years, though, and needed to win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009 this season.
The Shockers were beaten by Arkansas and eventual regional champion Kansas State last weekend.
Stephenson said that he hopes to continue coaching. He spent several minutes thanking his former players, coaches and staff during an emotional farewell.
Seton said that pitching coach Brent Kemnitz, who is under contract through 2014, will take over as interim coach, but will not be considered for the full-time job. Sexton said that a national search for the next coach will begin immediately.
''We thank Coach Stephenson for his years of service and the efforts he has made in his life's work building this program from the beginning," Sexton said.