Editor's Note: Below is the column Sports Editor Clay Horning wrote prior to the news breaking late Monday night that Gene Stephenson would, in fact, ultimately not accept the head baseball coach's job at Oklahoma. Throughout the column it was explained how painful leaving Wichita State was for Stephenson. As it turned out, apparently, too painful.



By Clay Horning

Transcript Sports Editor

First, it was Kenny Mossman at the podium, the associate athletic director in charge of dealing with the likes of us media.

He gave way to Joe Castiglione, the athletic director who could have told Sunny Golloway he never hand a chance in the first place, but at least managed, or had the nerve, to offer his "very, very sincere" thanks to the no-longer interim coach, who did more than anybody could have asked or expected following Larry Cochell's resignation.

Then it was Gene Stephenson's turn, all 59 years and 1,998 games of him, not including the seasons spent at old Haskell Park assisting Enos Semore; but, frankly, even those years, 1972-77, appeared to be wearing on his leathered face and noggin.

And that's where it should have started.

Because Stephenson was the best thing going at Monday's Lloyd Noble Center press conference hailing his hire as the Oklahoma's new baseball coach.

He brought his assistants, pitching coach Brent Kemnitz and Jim Thomas. Castiglione brought a roster of Sooner coaches, including Bob Stoops and Sherri Coale. Other dignitaries arrived, enough for the honoree to receive applause upon being introduced.

But there will be time to meet Kemnitz and Thomas. If anybody can get along without the solidarity of the Sooner family, it's a coach with 1,506 wins. And even while Castiglione may be a fantastic AD, there's still no question he made a mess of the search. Indeed, the only saving grace of it was one man's willingness to bail him out at the 11th hour.

So Stephenson was the whole darn show. Should have been the only show.



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You can't not like him.

The next time he breaks down will be the 23rd time, or the 35th time or the 63rd time, everybody was losing count, since taking the microphone from Castiglione.

From the looks of things, it's absolutely killing him to leave Wichita State.

So just think how he must have longed to return to OU.

Golloway might have given his left arm for the job.

Stephenson didn't have to. He only had to walk away from a program he built for 28 years from scratch, not to mention being the face of a 15,000 student university and a city of almost 350,000.

"It's been a lifelong dream," he said.

It must be, because it's tearing him up to move south.

"I even marvel that I'm away from Wichita," Stephenson said, obviously in some disbelief.

And yet, that was Sooner jersey he slipped on to his sturdy frame.

When he wasn't breaking down, which was pretty much every time he put the words "Wichita" and "state" into the same sentence, he offered interesting tidbits.

He didn't speak to Castiglione until last Thursday morning, which would appear to demonstrate more than a month into a national search, the athletic director was back at square one.

"I hope I wasn't an afterthought," Stephenson said. "I just think there was the thought that I couldn't be pried away from Wichita State."

He's going to stick to his old recruiting area: Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Colorado, and add northern Texas to the loop, which likely means more kids you've heard of and less kids from California.

"We believe we can get the kind of players we want and ones that will win and get us to Omaha to play for a national championship," Stephenson said.

He even believes he can "rejuvenate and reunite this entire state and the entire Sooner Nation" around OU baseball.

He's probably wrong about that, yet it's certainly nice to know a a grizzled old coach who's seen and done remains a dreamer at heart.



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And so it's done.

The Sooners' summer soap opera finally ends.

Messy, to be sure, but not without a feel good ending.

My choice? Golloway.

The guy who made the choice's choice? Anybody else.

Lucky for OU, after so many others had listened and walked away, Stephenson was still willing to pick up the phone.

Undoubtedly, it gets better from here.

Not only was it clear the only place he'd ever leave Wichita State for is here, it seemed just as clear, when he wasn't breaking down, he relishes the chance to build something new before taking off the uniform for good.

The Sooners are already contenders, in the Big 12 and, periodically, the nation. But what if they were a perennial top 10 team?

Stephenson believes it can be done.

He's already built one monster, so we'll see.

A good day for Sooner baseball?

Sure, why not.

The process wasn't much.

Thanks to Gene Stephenson, it still produced a winner.

Clay Horning 366-3526 cfhorning@norma

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