Wichita State inducts Gene Stephenson into the Hall of Fame


Joseph Barringhaus

Ex-Wichita State baseball coach Gene Stephenson holds back tears. Wichita State inducted Stephenson into the Hall of Fame on Saturday. Stephenson led Wichita State to seven College World Series appearances, and in 1989, WSU won the College World Series.

Gene Stephenson held back tears in recollection of his 36-year career with Wichita State.

“I loved what I was doing,” Stephenson said. “Passion — it’s hard to describe because every day was a joy.”

“Those guys are all my sons,” Stephenson said as he wiped tears from his face, remembering the nearly four decades he spent at WSU and the players, many All-Americans, he coached. “We had lots of joys, even in the beginning.”

WSU inducted its former baseball coach of 36 years into the Hall of Fame during halftime of Saturday’s basketball game.

Stephenson celebrated in the presence of former players, personal friends, and fans who witnessed Stephenson eclipse some of college baseball’s highest honors.

“Quit thinking about what you’re going to be doing 10 years from now, because you’ll fail to enjoy the ride you were on,” Stephenson said. “You’re on the ride of your life and you’re getting to do it with the guys you love.

“There’s not a whole lot in life a lot better than that.”

Joseph Barringhaus
Ex-Wichita State baseball coach Gene Stephenson celebrates being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Stephenson was a three-time NCAA Coach of the Year.

Stephenson, who has the second-most wins of any NCAA baseball coach, coached at WSU for 36 years. In that span, he was recognized as the NCAA Coach of the Year three times. He led the Shockers to seven College World Series appearances.

WSU won the College World Series in 1989 under Stephenson’s direction.

Stephenson’s tenure to the program came to a close prematurely. He was fired with a year remaining on his contract, despite leading the team to an NCAA Tournament — its 27th under Stephenson’s direction — that year.

Stephenson led WSU to their only College World series victory in 1989. He won 1,837 games with WSU.

Mike Pelfrey is an MLB veteran and close, personal friend of Stephenson. Pelfrey played three years under Stephenson.

“I think it’s unfair they didn’t let him choose his own destiny,” Pelfrey said in an interview with The Sunflower. “It’s not right at all how it ended.

Stephenson started with the program in 1977. He only needed three years to turn the program around. He signed Joe Carter, a three-time All-American, and the Shockers made the NCAA Tournament for the first time. Two years later, Stephenson had the Shockers in the College World Series.

WSU won 73 games that year (1982), an NCAA record for a single season.

In 2013, Stephenson met with reporters announcing that he had met with then-Athletic Director Eric Sexton who reportedly gave Stephenson the ultimatum to resign or be fired. Stephenson, 67, said to reporters that he had been forced out.

“I am sorely disappointed about the way this went down,” Stephenson said in an interview with The Wichita Eagle at the time of his firing. “I don’t think it was handled properly, but it’s not up for me to decide. We gave 36 years of our very best here.”

WSU hired Todd Butler as Stephenson’s replacement. Under Butler’s direction, WSU has yet to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Stephenson has since been recognized publicly at WSU basketball and baseball games. His induction into the Pizza Hut Hall of Fame brings the total of former coaches and student-athletes to 141.

The ex-WSU coach was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.