Wichita State baseball coach Gene Stephenson is considering how to end his 36-season tenure, according to several sources.
Stephenson met with athletic director Eric Sexton and university counsel Ted Ayres on Monday afternoon at Eck Stadium. Soon, Stephenson will no longer coach the Shockers, either because he chose to resign or the university chose to fire him with one year remaining on his contract.
Stephenson was given the opportunity to go out on those terms out of respect for his accomplishments at WSU, sources said.
“Don’t waste your time, no comment,” Stephenson said when leaving Eck Stadium shortly after 5 p.m., almost an hour after the breakup of a team meeting. Assistant coaches Brent Kemnitz and Jim Thomas also refused comment.
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Junior Micah Green said Stephenson told players he would know within 24 hours of his future, and that if he was fired, all baseball staff members would be fired.
“All we know is that he met with the AD,” senior pitcher T.J. McGreevy said. “He said they really don’t know anything yet. He told everyone that he loves us.”
Both said Stephenson’s mood indicated his coaching tenure may be over, but that no decision has been made. Stephenson sent the players home or to their summer destinations.
“We’re kind of in limbo,” Green said. “We don’t know what to think, what’s going to happen.”
Sexton and Ayres left the baseball office at about 3:45 p.m., and Shocker players arrived for a 4 p.m. meeting that lasted less than 15 minutes. Sexton and Ayres would not speak with reporters upon leaving the stadium. Sexton did not return a phone message.
Stephenson, 67, is 1,837-675-3 and his wins rank second among active NCAA Division I coaches. He has coached WSU to seven College World Series and won the school’s lone NCAA title, in 1989.
Stephenson’s contract has not been extended beyond 2014. Rather than allow him to coach a lame-duck season, WSU could buy out the final year of his contract and end a tenure that started in 1977, when he revived a dormant program.
Stephenson’s salary is $531,131. Kemnitz, the pitching coach, makes $139,928 and is on the same contract schedule as Stephenson. Thomas, who makes $101,510, is on a year-to-year contract. Kemnitz joined Stephenson’s staff as a graduate assistant in 1979. Thomas played at WSU from 1979-82 and returned as a coach in 1992.
Players expressed loyalty to Stephenson.
“He means everything to the program,” Green said. “We feel like they owe him quite a bit, to give him some answers.”
WSU played in an NCAA regional for the first time since 2009 and they hoped returning to the postseason would weigh in his favor.
“I really don’t think it’s fair, but I don’t make the decisions,” McGreevy said.
Saturday’s loss to Arkansas in the Manhattan Regional ended WSU’s season. Stephenson praised his players for holding up under scrutiny and a negative atmosphere. Playing this season with the coach’s future hanging over them took a toll.
“When we were struggling there was some frustrations, and words were said about the possibility of it happening if we didn’t do well,” Green said. “That did add some pressure. We didn’t talk about it too much.”
What appears to be Stephenson’s final season started when Pittsburgh swept the Shockers at Eck Stadium, his first sweep at home. WSU finished second in the MVC before winning the tournament to return to a regional. Kansas State defeated WSU 20-11 in its regional opener, the most runs allowed in NCAA play by the Shockers. Arkansas eliminated WSU 3-1 on Saturday. The Shockers finished the season 39-28.