Coaching ad out as NIU clears way for baseball

By Joe Bush

After an eight-year off-season, the Huskie baseball program recently threw out its first pitch with nationwide classified ads for head coaching prospects with Division I college experience.

NIU Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell said since the announcement last summer of the resumption of baseball, absent since after the spring of 1982, he has received calls from those interested.

NIU will take applications until March 1, the ad claims, and O’Dell hopes for a “late May, early June” hiring.

“I think they’ll get hundreds of applications,” said Dave Randall, head coach at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Ill. Randall added that recruiting shouldn’t be affected by a late hiring because many talented high school seniors don’t commit to programs until July.

O’Dell said the new coach will have a maximum 13 scholarships to bargain with but probably not all of them this first recruiting summer, which could mean a slow start.

Though junior colleges as well as high schools are prime ground for players, Illinois State University baseball coach Jeff Stewart said this summer could be “a case of taking the best of the rest” for NIU, which will join the Association of Mid-Continent Universities (AMCU) in 1991-92.

Former Huskie baseball coach Walt Owens said NIU need look no further than his Chick Evans Field House office for a new coach.

“I wasn’t terminated. They phased baseball out and I was under the impression I would be reinstated. I feel hurt that they (NIU) didn’t,” Owens said.

Owens, who coached the Huskies to a 133-158-8 record from 1976-1982, when the program was cut along with four other sports, said he has attended coaching and baseball conferences since 1982 and still sees area high school coaches when he is supervising student-teachers as an NIU faculty member.

“I’ve had the doors open since they phased it (baseball) out,” Owens said, adding that he still gets baseball mail and tips about prospects. “I’m ready to roll.”

Whoever wins the job will be free of the pressure to be competitive because the near future will be a “four to five year development process,” O’Dell said. The team will have tryouts and maybe some “outside competition” scrimmages in the fall, will begin to recruit more heavily and in the spring will play the minimum number of games required by the NCAA, O’Dell said.

Before the first hit reaches the outfield grass, the new team will need some space to call home. The current women’s softball field was originally for designed for baseball and will be again, Cary Groth, NIU senior associate athletic director said.

Groth said the women “won’t miss a game or a practice,” though, until a site has been selected and completed for them, possibly by the fall. Groth said if the two fields are not ready then, the baseball team can practice on high school fields or at Kishwaukee Community College.

Several sites are being looked at, Groth said, and financial approval will be needed from the NIU “upper administration” and the NIU Environmental Commission because trees will need to be cut down to move back the outfield fences.

Owens said those fences need power alleys in front of them because with DeKalb’s winds the park was a pitcher’s nightmare. Outfielders shared the pitchers’ dread when fly balls were hit, said Owens, because Stevenson South, directly behind home plate, is baseball-colored.

“They need to paint the dorms,” Owens said.