The search for the next Wichita State baseball coach is officially underway.
After six seasons, Todd Butler was fired following a meeting with WSU athletic director Darron Boatright Sunday. Following legendary coach Gene Stephenson, Butler was never able to return the Shockers to the postseason and finished with a 169-180-1 record in six seasons.
Boatright said WSU will conduct a national search to find its next coach, but it’s likely he won’t have to look outside of the Shocker family to find a suitable replacement.
Three names — all former Shocker standouts — have already floated to the top of the wish list. A source close to the situation told the Eagle that the alumni of the program were unanimous in their support of Eric Wedge. Many WSU fans have voiced their support for Kevin Hooper, while others look at what Mark Standiford has built at Tabor and wondered if he could do the same at WSU.
Boatright has yet to say outright that a former player will be the next manager, but in an interview with GoShockers.com he indicated as much.
“This is their program,” Boatright said of the WSU baseball alumni. “This is a program of former players, current players and fans. This will always be their program. We have to do everything we can to meet their expectations.”
Here’s a look at the three candidates and what each could offer the Shockers.
For starters, Wedge (1987-89) is one of the best players to come through Wichita State. He was the catcher for the 1989 College World Series championship team, hitting .380 and leading the NCAA in walks and total bases and finishing second in runs, RBIs and home runs that season. He earned first-team All-American honors, the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year award and was runner-up for the Rotary Smith Award, given to the best player in college baseball.
But what makes Wedge stand out is his experience and success in Major League Baseball.
His name still resonates in the baseball world, as Wedge spent 10 years as an MLB manager with the Cleveland Indians (2003-09) and Seattle Mariners (2011-13). Both jobs were considered major rebuilding tasks, but Wedge still guided the Indians to 96 wins and the American League Central title in 2007 that earned him the AL Manager of the Year award.
In 10 seasons as an MLB manager, Wedge compiled a record of 774-846 (.478 winning percentage). Before that, he was a successful minor-league manager in the Indians’ system. He was twice named the league manager of the year and was Baseball America’s Triple-A Manager of the Year in 2001 and The Sporting News’ Minor League Manager of the Year in 2002.
Since parting ways with the Mariners in 2013, Wedge has resurfaced as a player development adviser with the Toronto Blue Jays and has served in that role since February 2016. He currently resides in a Seattle suburb with his family.
Wedge’s name is still bandied about for MLB jobs — most recently, he interviewed for the New York Yankees’ managerial position in 2017 — because he has an established reputation. He has been a leader everywhere he’s been, as a player and a manager, and is equipped with a booming voice and authoritative presence that has made him popular in clubhouses.
It’s clear Wedge is interested in returning to coaching, but would he be interested in returning to the college level?
WSU remains important to Wedge, as evidenced by his keynote speech last December for former coach Gene Stephenson’s Hall of Fame induction banquet. And at age 51, Wedge could invest in restoring the Shockers to their past greatness. His name recognition and his success as a player at WSU could be a boon in recruiting, too.
But the recruiting aspect of the job is the question looming over Wedge. With only professional experience, would Wedge want to recruit in the college game?
Hooper is immensely popular in Wichita, not only for his All-America career with the Shockers but also for his success as the manager of the Wichita Wingnuts.
He has deep roots in Wichita. He and his family have remained here since Hooper, 42, left the Wingnuts in 2016 to join the San Diego Padres as their minor-league infield coordinator. Hooper, who was born in Lawrence, played at WSU from 1996-99, earned All-America status twice, led the Shockers in batting average (.402) in 1999 and then played in more than 600 Triple-A games as a professional.
While Hooper doesn’t have MLB or affiliated baseball experience as a manager, he was wildly successful as coach of the Wingnuts in independent baseball. In his seven seasons at the helm, Wichita won six division championships, including the 2014 American Association championship. He compiled a 422-270 record (.610) and won three manager of the year awards.
Hooper was well-liked as a Wingnuts manager and earned a reputation as a guy his players wanted to play for. He was instrumental in helping to send 36 players to affiliated baseball during his tenure.
He has some experience selling players on playing for him as manager of an independent club, although recruiting at the collegiate level would be new. Hooper’s likeable personality and love for WSU and the city of Wichita could help bolster his recruiting efforts.
What sets Standiford apart is his experience and success as a manager at the collegiate level.
Since taking over the head coaching job at Tabor in the fall of 2008, Standiford has built the program into an NAIA power. In 11 seasons, Standiford has compiled a 449-193 record (.699), guiding the Bluejays to the NAIA World Series in 2014 and 2015, and won five KCAC championships in the past seven years.
Like the other candidates, Standiford is a past Shocker great: He’s known as one of the most prolific power hitters in WSU history. From 1985-88, Standiford slugged 69 home runs, a mark that still stands as the program’s career record.
As a senior, Standiford led the Shockers in runs, doubles and RBIs and set the single-season home run record at 28. He led the Shockers to the 1988 College World Series and earned All-America status from Collegiate Baseball.
WSU would be a major step up for Standiford, but his level of sustained success speaks to his ability to recruit and coach. He has essentially re-written the record book at Tabor and strung together seven straight 40-win seasons from 2011-17. At WSU, he would have excellent facilities and a history of success to recruit upon.
Another bonus Standiford offers? The recruiting ties he’s built from operating the Wichita Sluggers Academy for the past 13 years. The 50,000-square foot complex has helped develop young players from all over the area.