By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
WICHITA, Kan. —
Brent Kemnitz came to Wichita State at age 21 as a graduate assistant in the fall of 1978, following a stellar career at Phillips University (21-7).
Thirty-five years later, the 57-year-old Kemnitz is not quite ready to leave the only school he’s coached at.
Kemnitz, who has been the Shockers pitching coach since the fall of 1980, will remain on the staff of new head coach Todd Butler.
Butler replaced Gene Stephenson, who was fired recently after going 1,837-675 since reviving the Shocker program 36 years ago.
“I never wanted to be the head coach,’’ Kemnitz said. “Being a pitching coach is my niche. I look at myself connecting the past with the future with what’s ahead. I’m thrilled to be in this role.’’
He had been with Stephenson all but one of those 36 seasons. It was emotional for him to see his old boss dismissed.
“Gene will go down in history as the best college coach in the history of the game,’’ Kemnitz said. “His record speaks for itself. It’s unbelieveable what he’s done here. I feel bad for the situation.’’
But while his heart aches for Stephenson, he’s grateful for the opportunity to stay, especially at his age.
“I’m starting my 36th year and that is forever,’’ Kemnitz said.
“I’ve grown up here. Wichita is my home. I can sell Wichita and Wichita State better than anyone. I can sell it with a passion. I believe in the university and the baseball program. It would have been weird going someplace else.’’
Kemnitz said it will be an adjustment working for a new boss after 35 years. That will be easier since Kemnitz was used as a consultant in hiring a new coach.
“I wanted to find someone who respected Gene Stephenson and what he built,’’ Kemnitz said. “Todd Butler fits that to a tee. He is a guy who has great respect for coach Stephenson and will continue to stand for what coach Stephenson stood for.’’
Butler, who made All-Big Eight honors at Oklahoma in 1988, has been a head coach at McNeese State and was an assistant at Alabama and Arkansas.
“He’s brought big time energy,’’ Kemnitz said. “It was tough recruiting against him. I’d rather be recruiting with him. He’s a tireless worker.’’
Kemnitz hasn’t talked with Stephenson for a couple of weeks, but said his former boss is “staying busy ... he’ll be OK.’’
Kemnitz had chances to leave WSU, but never pursued a head coaching job.
He learned under former major leaguer and Oklahoma State star Tom Bourland with the Stillwater American Legion team and with Bill Brown at Phillips University.
“This (being pitching coach) keeps me motivated,’’ Kemnitz said. “I’ve maintained a niche as a pitching coach and I never lost my motivation.’’
He joked he didn’t need the headaches of being a head coach. As pitching coach, he could simply coach.
“Exactly,’’ he said. “The head coach has to worry about raising money and budgets. I go to baseball games. I enjoy being in the trenches. I’m thankful to stay in this role. I’m still pretty young in my own mind. I have a lot of years left.’’
He said not seeking the head coaching job made the transition from Stephenson to Butler easier.
“He knew I didn’t want to be the head coach,’’ Kemnitz said. “I was just happy to be involved with the process.’’
Kemnitz turned down opportunities to go into pro baseball. He saw WSU go from not having any seats at his field to being one of the best baseball venues in that area.
“It’s been fun watching it grow,’’ Kemnitz said. “I’ve never wanted to give up what I was doing.’’
Kemnitz was successful in bringing Enid players such as Jim Hepburn, Tyler Fleming, Blake Hurlbutt and Tobin Mateychick to WSU.
He is close to Enid athletic director Bill Mayberry, a teammate of his at PU and marvels at David Allen Memorial Ballpark, calling it “a truly unbelieveable facility.’’
The Haymakers went to the NAIA World Series in Kemnitz’s freshman year and were at one time ranked No. 1 during his junior season. Kemnitz went 8-0 that season and helped ignite a 29-game winning streak.
“It was great times,’’ Kemnitz said. “What Joe Record (PU head coach) accomplished speaks for itself.’’
Kemnitz said he has “stayed tight’’ with Enid friends and “always loves a chance to go back.’’
“When I was young, I wanted to be a pro athlete,’’ Kemnitz said. “I loved sports. Baseball turned out to be my best sport. I wanted to stay around the game and I got that opportunity at Wichita State. I’m thrilled with the opportunity to stay.’’