Gene Stephenson never did sign a contract before being introduced as Oklahoma’s baseball coach in an emotional news conference Monday morning. He donned the crimson and white jersey, smiled for the cameras, and told everyone how much he was going to miss Wichita State.
Monday night – about eight hours after saying “we’ve done all we can do at Wichita State” – he and his staff became Shockers again.
Stephenson backed out of Soonerland because “scholarship issues have arisen that are unresolveable to our satisfaction.” Sources say Stephenson was told Oklahoma was four full scholarships over the allowed limit of 11.7, which made Stephenson nervous that the Sooners would be punished by the NCAA.
Stephenson said Joe Castiglione disclosed the issue to him when the two first met at a Perry, Okla., McDonalds on Friday afternoon.
“We both believed that somehow we could work this out and find a way through it,” Stephenson said in a telephone interview. “(Monday), it became apparent later on in the afternoon, in a meeting with the academic people, that this was going to take a much longer time to work out than we anticipated or could live with.”
Sunny Golloway, who has served as OU’s interim coach for the past two months, would not talk about the team’s scholarship situation. “I’m not sure about that. I can’t comment on it,” he said.
Stephenson informed WSU president Don Beggs of his decision about 7:30 p.m. Monday, Beggs said.
“This is very much a Gene decision,” Beggs said. “Needless to say, it’s a surprise. This was Gene’s day, and I know it’s been a hard decision for him, but when I spoke to him it was not an emotional discussion. From my perspective, this is the final decision.”
WSU athletic director Jim Schaus, who is vacationing in California, said he hadn’t spoken to Stephenson as of 11 p.m. Monday but was aware of the details.
“Obviously at the end of the day he just didn’t have the comfort level he needed, “ Schaus said. “We’ve tried to give Gene some space, but he also knows Wichita State was always going to be a place that would support him and care for him. It was never about Wichita State not doing enough. So I’m surprised by the news, but it’s a great surprise for Shocker baseball.
“Sometimes it’s never too late to do the right thing.”
It was a long day for assistant coaches Brent Kemnitz and Jim Thomas. Wearing the same clothes that they had worn when introduced as Oklahoma assistants 12 hours earlier, they sat in their Eck Stadium offices late Monday night and called current Shockers and incoming players for next season.
They wouldn’t talk about the scholarship problem, referring instead to Stephenson’s statement released by WSU just minutes earlier.
But their moods were clearly ones of frustration.
Kemnitz said they met with OU players at 2 p.m. and everything went well. But, without being specific, he said a meeting about scholarships for the team didn’t go well afterward.
Kemnitz said Stephenson, feeling he was unable to rectify the problem, called Castiglione to tell him he was returning to Wichita State. Castiglione has left Norman for Washington, D.C., where the Sooners men’s gymnastics team was to meet today with President Bush at the White House.
Stephenson’s unsigned contract was for six years and was expected to pay him approximately $275,000 annually, which is roughly what he has been making at WSU.
“Every coaching job, especially in a time of transition, has obstacles, “ Castiglione said in a statement. “As is the case with any incoming staff member, we disclosed issues we anticipated before the job was accepted. We believed in the decision to hire Gene and would have enjoyed the opportunity to work with him.
“This is unfortunate, but we’ll move forward to fill our position.”