DII baseball: Southeastern Oklahoma State's Mike Metheny chasing all-time wins record
It was 1981. "Bette Davis Eyes" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" ruled pop culture. Jimmy Carter handed the reins over to Ronald Reagan in the nation’s capital. Fernando-mania was sweeping the nation when the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the New York Yankees to become World Series champions.
That was also the year a young, former Southeastern Oklahoma State second baseman named Mike Metheny took over as head coach at his alma mater.
Thirty-seven years and a national championship later, he finds himself on the cusp of history.
“When I was starting at Southeastern, I’m not sure I knew what I wanted to do, honestly,” Metheny said. “I had planned on going to Oklahoma State to become an architect. I happened to play baseball in the summer with someone that had just graduated Southeastern. He told me they were starting a new program, and the coach was new. I still wanted to play, so I came to Southeastern not having a clue of what I was getting into.”
Metheny entered the 2017 season with a record of 1,308-650-2, tied with Valdosta State’s Hall of Fame former skipper Tommy Thomas, both a mere six wins shy of Armstrong State’s (then Armstrong Atlantic) Joe Roberts. Roberts finished with a career 1,314-640 record.
“I never matched up against them,” Metheny said. “I know this. I know they are good guys. We’ve met and talked before. Especially Joe, he’s done so much for Division II baseball for most of his life.”
When Metheny arrived in Durant, Okla., he was mentored by NAIA Hall of Fame head coach Dr. Don Parham first as a player, then a graduate assistant and finally his full-time assistant coach.
“Dr. Don Parham had the opportunity to hire me as a full-time assistant,” Metheny said. “I decided that would be the best thing, to come back here. That’s when it really started to sink in that I could be the coach here.
“When Doc came to see me, he didn’t promise me anything. He told me I that I would be in a position that when he retired, it was something I would have a chance for. I was his right-hand man. His records were really nice. His last game was in the World Series in Tennessee. At that time we were riding pretty high in the NAIA.”
Those Savage Storm teams were indeed riding high. In 1981, Metheny put up an unprecedented rookie season as a head coach, finishing 61-7. His 18-year run in the NAIA never saw a losing season and included seven trips to the championships, resulting in three runner-up finishes.
SOSU jumped to Division II in 1999. In just his second season, Metheny reached the summit of college baseball. His Savage Storm took home their lone national championship.
“When we won the national championship in 2000, every player was from Oklahoma,” Metheny said. “Most of them were from southeastern Oklahoma. That made it really special. We’re not pulling out of the metroplex or Oklahoma City. We’re pulling from the small schools here in southeast Oklahoma.”
That is what has kept Metheny content in DII for so long. Division I may get more of the hype, but there is a close-knit feel for many of these DII communities.
“It’s a smaller scale and not as much of the big lights and everything,” Metheny said. “I think most of our kids are kind of like that. We’re from Durant, Okla., and southeast Oklahoma. Probably 60 to 70 percent of our kids are about 150 miles from Durant.”
Now, Metheny sits six wins shy of the record. With his team sitting at 1-11, he is the last person that wants to discuss it.
“It’s out there,” Metheny said. “Coaches don’t like to talk about that. If you look at our record right now, we’ve never started this bad. I don’t like to talk numbers. I’m in range of doing that, and someday it will be special.”
This season presented a unique set of circumstances for the veteran coach. He had just two returning players in the lineup and three returning pitchers. Throw in a grueling schedule that included road trips all across Texas and a series against No. 4-ranked Angelo State and it was a tough transition for a relatively new team.
“That’s what you never know about in coaching,” Metheny said. “You lose your whole ball club from last year and you recruit every year to bring in a new team, but you have no idea how it’s going to go together. It’s not as much the team as it is the circumstances that we have played under. It’s a bad schedule. I can’t imagine starting any harder than we had to start with.
“That’s the battle right now. Getting the kids’ confidence back up and proving to them that we can play and compete. Like I said, I’ve never started like this. It’s a struggle for me just as much as them.”
Metheny isn’t worried about records. Heading into a winnable series against Northwestern Oklahoma State this weekend, he’s worried about righting the ship.
And one thing hasn't even crossed his mind: retiring.
“I’ll say this,” Metheny said. “I have a wife, a daughter and a granddaughter. They will not even talk about it. But I know how my body feels. It feels like it’s 80 and I’m only close to 70. It’s a different game and different kids these days. I’m looking forward to someday when I do retire, I have lots of things I want to do. But I don’t know when that is. I don’t want to set a date, I still love baseball.
“That’s our lives. When I get there, I’ll say, ‘See ya, I’m gone.’”