There are few graceful exits in sports. Tom Osborne comes to mind. So does John Elway.
Gene Stephenson and Augie Garrido do not.
The two college baseball legends have over 3,600 wins, 21 trips to the College World Series and six national championships. And this could be the last week of their careers.
They’ve given their lives to the game. As Creighton coach Ed Servais says, guys like Stephenson, Garrido and the late Ron Fraser “built college baseball.”
But the rules of the game they built are that there are no free passes.
Stephenson took Wichita State to the CWS seven times, but hasn’t had a team in Omaha since 1996. WSU hasn’t been to the NCAA tourney since 2009. Attendance is down. Disappointment is up.
There’s a generation of CWS fans who have no idea that Wichita State used to be an Omaha steakhouse regular.
Garrido’s Texas Longhorns were in Omaha just two years ago, but missed the NCAA tourney last year and should miss it again this year unless the light-hitting Horns pull a shocker at the Big 12 tournament this week.
Stephenson appears to be in more immediate danger. He’s 67. And the Wichita Eagle reported last week that the school won’t renew his contract after 2014. He could come back next year for a last hurrah. Good luck with that recruiting class.
Garrido says he won’t resign, and added, “I’m sure as hell not going out a loser.” But he’s 74. You never know what Texas A.D. DeLoss Dodds is thinking. But with Texas football and basketball also underachieving, fans aren’t in a good mood.
Even if Garrido comes back next year, this doesn’t look like it will end well.
Several years ago, Stephenson took the Oklahoma job, then had a change of heart and came back to Wichita. The program hasn’t been the same since.
You understand the pride — and the money — that keeps the legends coming back to fix what they built. But there are usually few options for these icons.
Leave on top. Leave before the posse forms. Or wake up one day and find that they changed the locks — to the building named after you.
>> One more time. Give me Creighton vs. Wichita State. Creighton vs. Stephenson, one more time, please.
If it happens, it will take place on Wednesday in the quarterfinals or losers bracket of the MVC tourney. The Jays and Shox are in the same bracket.
CU is in its last Valley event. Stephenson might be in his last season. So they would each be trying to end that. How fitting.
Stephenson’s program pushed Creighton to be great. The Jays would like to think they returned the favor over the years.
It’s been heated, but also classy. After losing to CU in the Valley final two years ago, Stephenson hung around to personally congratulate each Jays player. Last week, at Wichita, Servais pulled Stephenson aside and told him how much he meant to college baseball.
This series will be missed. So once more around the block, please.
>> The Jays get Mike Gerber back. They’ve rallied at conference tournaments before. I like their chances to get to the Valley final game, as long as the wake-up call comes through. Today’s first round game starts at 9 a.m. Who thinks of these game times?
>> Kyle Kubat pitched well against Michigan last Thursday, with 86 pitches, five strikeouts and two earned runs in six innings. The Wolverines did their damage after the left-hander from Waterloo was lifted.
NU will need Kubat to go longer in Wednesday’s Big Ten opener. It’s all arms on deck this week, and there aren’t a lot of able arms left. If Christian DeLeon can’t return, it might be a short week for the Huskers.
>> Is Tatum Edwards available to pitch for Darin Erstad this week? Nebraska’s softball super regional doesn’t start until Saturday at Oregon.
>> I grew to know Fred White over the years in the press boxes at Kauffman Stadium and throughout the Big Eight Conference. And in my car driving around Kansas City. The late Royals broadcaster had an understated style, gave you what you needed to know and did it with grace and class. I’ll miss that voice.
>> When UNO made the move to D-I, there wasn’t much talk about Maverick baseball. All Bob Herold’s crew did was go win the school’s first D-I league title. So how long before we start talking about UNO going to the CWS?
Just kidding, Bob. I think.
>> Dean Blais drives the bus for UNO hockey (not literally). But you have to wonder if the turnover on his coaching staff takes its toll.
>> The crowd at the Class A soccer final last week deserved its own headline. But is this the future? Was this the soccer passion of Omaha South showing up? These are things I don’t know. What I do know: Soccer is building steam in this country.
A question for those trying to say soccer will overtake football: Do soccer players ever suffer concussions from “headers?”
>> I was surprised the Big Ten didn’t set up a Nebraska vs. Michigan or Ohio State game in 2014, for TV purposes if nothing else. You would think the league, and BTN, would want NU vs. Michigan or Ohio State or Penn State every year.
Does this mean Nebraska could end up playing both Michigan and Ohio State in the same season down the road?
Does it mean the league sees NU the same as it does the other league teams?
What it most likely means is that scheduling for 14 schools isn’t easy. I’d hate to see what 16 would be like.
>> The 2014 Nebraska football schedule is friendly, if you mean the crowds at Michigan State, Wisconsin and Northwestern are friendly.
>> If you think a new arena in Lincoln means a parade of big-time nonconference games through the gates, think again.
NU men’s basketball coach Tim Miles told me last week there are only two certainties on his future nonconference schedules: Creighton and the Big Ten-ACC challenge. He said NU is scheduled to play in ESPN events the next three years, which are “loaded events.”
Said Miles: “We’re going to get 20 BCS level games with our league schedule and league tournament. If you’re playing 22 or 23 BCS level games, that’s plenty.”
>> Hearing a lot of hype about the hot, new restaurant in town. Yes, Dunkin’ Donuts. Will you need a VIP pass to get in?
>> We are all Oklahomans today.
>> If Julie Hermann has half the leadership skills of her old Nebraska volleyball coach, Terry Pettit, she’ll do great at Rutgers. But Hermann will be judged by fans and the media by what she does with Rutgers’ football and men’s basketball. If she can make Rutgers a big-time player in the Big Ten, her stock will soar.
>> One more and I’m outta here: A well-deserved shout-out for the athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers and everyone who makes the Nebraska state track meet such a successful event each year. It’s an iconic sports tradition in this state.
I would only suggest one change: the addition of the walk-from-your-car half-marathon.
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