Wichita State Shockers

Wichita State fires baseball coach Todd Butler

The Todd Butler era with the Wichita State baseball program has come to an end.

After a meeting with Butler on Sunday, athletic director Darron Boatright announced Sunday afternoon “a change in baseball leadership.” Butler, who just completed his sixth season as WSU coach, had one year remaining on the seven-year contract he signed in 2013 and will be owed $300,000.

Butler, the program’s only coach other than Gene Stephenson, finished with a 169-180-1 record for a 0.483 winning percentage and no postseason appearances. The Shockers concluded a 28-31 season on Saturday with a loss in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament in Clearwater, Florida.

Assistant coaches Sammy Esposito and Mike Pelfrey and director of operations Scott Gurss will remain with the program until the end of their contracts on June 30.

“Following an evaluation of our baseball program, it is time to have a change in our leadership,” Boatright said in a release. “We move forward with our same program expectations; to compete at the highest level nationally and in the American Athletic Conference. I thank coach Butler and Melissa for their six years of service to Wichita State University.”

A source close to the situation told the Eagle that the alumni of the program were unanimous in their support of Eric Wedge, a former Shocker with Major League coaching experience with the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners. Other popular candidates among fans include two other former players: Kevin Hooper, who works as the San Diego Padres’ minor league infield coordinator, and Mark Standiford, who has built Tabor into a NAIA power.

Whoever is hired to replace Butler will take over a program that the WSU fan base is desperate to see win again.

When Butler took over the program in 2013, he evaluated it as a total rebuilding job. The Shockers were behind in recruiting and scholarship players. Butler considered that 2018 draft class as his first true recruiting class, while he had retooled the roster this season with freshmen and junior-college transfers that had him optimistic for the future.

But at a program with a proud past like WSU, winning is still a requirement. The Shockers ultimately never won enough under Butler and attendance dipped to the lowest its been in two decades.

“I wish current, past and future players and coaches great success going forward,” Butler said in a statement. “I am particularly grateful to Sammy Esposito, Scott Gurss, Mike Pelfrey and Willie Schwanke for their hard work and dedication to the program. As for me and my family, we have worked tirelessly to bring top-notch student-athletes to multiple campuses across the country. We are excited for our next chapter, and we wish the Shockers the best.”

Off the field, Butler was well-liked by the WSU administration and credited for helping bridge the gap and welcoming Stephenson back in the program last year. He was also a skilled recruiter with his work translating to the 2018 MLB Draft where 10 Shockers were selected, including a No. 3 overall pick in Alec Bohm, a second-rounder in Greyson Jenista and five players taken in the first 10 rounds.

His best season came last season, where WSU notched 35 wins, but even with those 10 draft picks, the second-most of any program in the country, the Shockers failed to receive a NCAA Regional bid because of a 9-14-1 record in AAC play.

After posting 31 wins his first season, Butler’s win total dropped to 26 in 2014 and 21 in 2015. WSU won 28 games in 2016 and surged to 35 last season, but the inexperience following that draft class leaving left the Shockers in an up-and-down 28-31 season this year.

Butler’s teams also posted a losing conference record for the last five years, as WSU finished with a 47-63-1 record in conference play during that span.

With so little experience returning to WSU after that draft class departed, the Shockers actually surprised early in the season when they won seven straight games and peaked with an 18-12 record. But that was immediately followed by losses in 14 of the next 16 games, which sunk the season.

WSU needed to win on the final day of the regular season just to ensure it did not miss the conference tournament for the first time in program history.

The Shockers did end on a high note, however. A senior day shutout by Clayton McGinness over No. 8 East Carolina highlighted the final homestand, then the Shockers knocked off the top-10 Pirates twice in three days at the AAC Tournament.

With only four seniors on roster, WSU will have the majority of its production scheduled to return next season.

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