Gene Stephenson spent a few days in Omaha with the old guys at the College World Series.
The old guys are still coaching. He is not.
Texas’ Augie Garrido (75) took the Longhorns to the College World Series. Mike Gillespie (74) coached UC Irvine to Omaha. Stephenson also talked to Rice coach Wayne Graham (78) and Florida State’s Mike Martin (70).
His peers, he said, are mystified that he isn’t coaching at Wichita State, or somewhere.
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Stephenson, 68, will enter the College Baseball Hall of Fame on Saturday in a ceremony in Lubbock, Texas. He does not want the record book closed on his coaching career and he can look to his peers for inspiration.
“I’m a baseball coach,” he said. “I’m not too old. I want to be there to help somebody, in some way, and the most obvious way I can help is coaching.”
Gillespie and Garrido provide inspiration that hits close to home. Southern California fired Gillespie in 2006 after 20 seasons and the 1998 NCAA title. He landed at UC Irvine after a season in the minors. Texas missed the NCAAs in 2012 and 2013.
“At one point or another, people thought they were washed up,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson, fired by Wichita State after the 2013 season, feels better than he has in years. Ten-hour bus rides and long afternoons standing in the coaching box wore down his body. He underwent lower back surgery in September, fusing three vertebrae, and moves without pain.
“My mind is sharp,” he said. “I’m a guy who can still coach. I’m a guy who can still, physically, now that I’ve had back surgery, can do anything.”
Stephenson believes his coaching resume can benefit a school, perhaps one that needs an experienced man to rebuild a program with strong potential. Stephenson coached WSU to seven College World Series and won the school’s lone NCAA title, in 1989. He coached 36 seasons, making 28 appearances in NCAA play and going 1,837-675-3.
“I think the fire is still there, although the longer you wait it’s going to be tougher to get back into it,” said Phil Stephenson, his brother and coach at Dodge City Community College. “He still has the desire and the belief that he can turn a program around and get it back to national prominence.”
Gene Stephenson can picture his perfect scenario. It’s not as difficult as raising WSU baseball from the dead in 1978. But it is about building a team that can compete nationally.
“Ideally I want to be able to recruit and coach and focus on that,” he said. “That would necessitate, probably, a BCS school that is at the bottom of their league and looking for help. I can change that program in two or three years and leave whenever they wanted me to with a coach in waiting.”
He is looking for a place where he doesn’t need to raise money for facilities or trips to Hawaii — a constant chore at WSU — and better weather would be a bonus.
“There are several teams in that position, whether they want to make a change or not, I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t made any inquiries. I don’t even know if anybody knows how to get a hold of me.”
He might consider, for example, a Southland Conference school where baseball is taken seriously and the weather is good.
“I just never, ever thought I’d leave Wichita State,” he said. “I’ve got to focus on the next opportunity. When it comes about, I’m going to be physically and mentally healthy and ready to go. I’ll know what it is, whether it’s in coaching or something else.”
Stephenson, who coached WSU from 1978 to 2013, becomes the fifth Shocker inducted into the hall of fame, which began in 2006. He joins pioneering coaches, previously inducted, such as LSU’s Skip Bertman, Miami’s Ron Fraser and Oklahoma State’s Gary Ward.
Also in the class of 2014 are Southern Cal pitcher Bill Bordley, Miami (Fla.) pitcher Alex Fernandez, Miami (Fla.) outfielder Mike Fiore, Miami-Dade North Community College coach Demie Mainieri, Baylor player and coach Mickey Sullivan, and William C. Matthews, a player at Tuskegee Institute and Harvard.
The class is chosen by 220 voters — coaches, media members and hall of fame members. There is no waiting period after a coaching or playing career before people become eligible.