Gary Powers has earned the right to coach the Nevada Wolf Pack baseball team in 2013 and beyond.
Now let’s move on.
But, of course, we can’t move on. Not yet, at least. Powers’ future as the Pack head coach after his current contract expires on June 30 is in jeopardy. Yes, the Pack is heading to a new conference this summer and, for the first time in 30 years, we still don’t know who will be the head baseball coach.
The question — whether or not Powers should continue to coach the Wolf Pack — was always baseless and ludicrous. But it’s one of those questions that reveals more about the ones doing the asking rather than about the subject of the question.
The question should never have been asked about Powers.
When you are the longest tenured head coach in the history of your university, your university owes you a certain level of respect and dignity. But when your university informs you that you will be on a one-year probation, well, that sound you just heard was your respect and dignity flying out the window.
Powers has been forced to audition for a job that simply would not exist today if not for his own relentless work ethic, never-say-die will to succeed and loyalty to the university over the past three decades.
This is a man you are thinking about firing? This is a man who should have a ballpark on campus named after him.
But we are waiting. More importantly, Powers is waiting. The Pack players are waiting. Future recruits are waiting. The Pack baseball program, like all Wolf Pack athletic programs right now, is in a state of limbo at a time when it needs stability, focus and direction as much as it ever has in its long history.
Powers, though, we must admit, is almost as much to blame for this absurdity as anyone. He could have demanded a multiple-year extension after the 2011 season and if he didn’t get it, he could have retired. But he didn’t. He agreed to come back for one more season with an appointment to talk to athletic director Cary Groth after the season.
“I told everyone that I didn’t want to talk about it until after the season,” Powers said. “I never mentioned it to anyone. I didn’t want that to be the focus of this season.”
Powers agreed to the one-year stay of execution because, well, he still believes that hard work, determination and faith in an honest day’s work can overcome anything. He had faith in himself, his assistant coaches and the talent on the roster.
And he had faith that he is the best man for the job.
“Nobody knows the personnel on this team and what’s best for them and what’s best for this program better than I do,” Powers said.
Can’t argue with that.
Powers made a deal with his players and assistant coaches before the 2012 season started.
“I told them that this is their season, this is their team,” Powers said. “I told them, ‘You came here to play baseball and to become a champion and I will do whatever I can to help you accomplish that.’ I promised to them that my situation will not be a distraction to the team and it wasn’t. When it comes time to talk about my contract, I’ll sit down and discus it. But not before then.”
Powers refused to take his one-year probation period as a slap in his face.
“Until my last contract (a 3-year deal he signed in 2009), I was always on a one-year contract,” Powers said. “That’s really all I know.”
But this time, whether Powers admitted it or not, was different.
The entire season had a year-long farewell tour feel to it. And when Groth and other members of the administration showed up to witness Powers’ 900th career victory in April at Peccole Park — a place where Groth has rarely been seen since she became athletic director in 2004 — you half expected Powers to announce his retirement right then and there.
But he didn’t. And, so far, he hasn’t.
“I made a commitment to these guys this year to coach them and help build this program,” Powers said. “That is the only thing I worried about all year.”
Powers insists that he wants to continue coaching in 2013 and beyond. He wasn’t saying as much just a year ago — after the toughest year of his career on and off the field — when all he would really commit to was another year.
But now he wants to continue.
Or so he says.
“I’ll work for this university until they tell me I’m no longer wanted,” Powers said.
That might occur in a week or so. And if it does, if Powers is fired or announces some sort of retirement or new position in the athletic department (with his experience, leadership, toughness, work ethic and intelligence, he would make a tremendous athletic director, by the way) it will be a sad day for Wolf Pack athletics.
Powers and his coaching staff (Chris Pfatenhauer, Buddy Gouldsmith and Pat Flury) did a phenomenal job with this Wolf Pack baseball team this year. It was an incredibly young team that relied heavily on kids just a year removed from high school or junior college.
It was a team that really had no idea what it was getting into. Everyday was a new learning experience.
“We knew they had talent,” Powers said. “All they needed was the experience.”
That’s easy to say and almost impossible to do, especially for a coaching staff that didn’t know whether it was going to have a job at the end of the year. You try putting your future into the hands of a bunch of 18-year-olds.
In baseball you have to use everybody on your roster to have a successful season. You just can’t let Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua handle the ball on most every play and you can’t ride a Nick Fazekas for four years. In baseball, sometimes the ninth best guy in your lineup or the ninth best guy on your pitching staff that day has to go up there to the plate or on the mound and try to win the game. Do you think Chris Ault or David Carter would ever put the ball in the hands of their ninth best player with the game (or their jobs) on the line?
But Powers and his staff somehow found a way to squeeze 32 victories out of this wet-behind-the-ears group. It wasn’t easy. The inconsistencies and frustrations of youth were never more than an at-bat or a pitch away all season.
Powers and his staff guided this young group through a tough schedule that could have eaten them alive. The Pack won two of three on the road at New Mexico to open the year. They won two of three at UNLV. They won two of three against UC Santa Barbara, Loyola Marymount and BYU.
They swept Western Athletic Conference three-game series against Louisiana Tech and San Jose State. They won two of three against Fresno State.
Yes, of course, there were disappointments along the way. Mid-week losses to Santa Clara, San Francisco State and Pacific were difficult lessons to learn for the young Pack. They lost two close, frustrating games to Oregon State at home in early April as well as two of three games at Seattle and Sacramento State in early May.
The loss at Hawaii on the final day of the regular season with the No. 1 seed in the WAC tournament on the line as well as the two blowout losses in the tournament will remain with this team until next year.
But that’s all part of the coaching and teaching process.
“We have a long-range plan in place,” Powers said. “We never lost sight of that. This team had a lot to learn this year and some of those lessons were tough to learn. But it’s something they had to go through.”
Powers and his staff accomplished what they set out to do in 2012. They got Wolf Pack baseball back pointed in the right direction once again after a difficult 2011.
“The future of this team is very bright,” Powers said.
He’s earned the right to be a part of that future since, well, he was the one that put it in place.
Powers has now won 912 games in his 30 seasons for a winning percentage of .554. The 2012 season was his 17th season of 30 or more victories and fourth in the last six. Since 1988, Powers’ Wolf Pack have never had more than two losing seasons in a row.
Powers went to four NCAA Regionals in seven years in the Big West Conference, one of the toughest conferences in the nation. His teams consistently competed toe to toe with the top teams in the WAC, a conference that produced two College World Series champions in the Pack’s 12 years in the league.
How many national champions did the WAC produce in football and men’s basketball in the Pack’s 12 seasons in the league?
Powers’ job, though, is on the line.
And it really doesn’t make any sense.
If Powers’ job is on the line after a 32-25 year that included a WAC regular-season championship then there are about a dozen other head coaches at the university who should be getting their resume together right about now.
The football team went just 7-6 and gave away the most important game of the season at home in the fourth quarter with the league title on the line, did it again the following week on the road and then capped it all off with a loss in the bowl game.
The women’s track team finished seventh in the WAC Outdoor Championships and fifth in the indoor meet. The men’s golf team finished sixth or lower in eight of 11 tournaments this year, including sixth in the WAC tournament. The men’s tennis team was 11-11 and the women’s tennis team went 6-12.
The women’s basketball team was 7-23 overall and 3-11 in the WAC.
The women’s cross country team finished sixth in the WAC meet. The volleyball team went 5-21 overall and 2-12 in the WAC. The women’s golf team finished last in the WAC tournament. The women’s soccer team was 3-16 overall and 1-6 in the WAC and was outscored 42-12 this season.
The softball team was 21-34 overall and 9-12 in the WAC as well as 6-14 at home. The women’s swim team was fifth in the WAC meet.
The baseball team’s WAC championship doesn’t look so bad, does it? You could even stack up the Pack baseball team’s third-place finish in the WAC in 2011 — the season that started all this silly Powers-needs-to-go talk in the first place — and it still stacks up favorably against most of the performances in all the Pack sports this year.
Who could better coach the Pack baseball program?
Powers, who ranks 21st in the nation among all active coaches in career victories, knows what it takes to win games in northern Nevada at the highest level of college baseball. It takes players as tough and demanding as he is, players that have to learn how to battle the elements and a tough-as-nails coach who requires a never-ending focus and devotion to the team from the moment they step on campus until the moment they graduate.
Powers knows that winning baseball games in northern Nevada takes players who play with a chip on their shoulder, who are angry at all the warm-weather baseball factory schools for not recruiting them. It‘s that same chip that has motivated Powers his entire life.
You think it’s easy to hit a 90-mph fastball with 40-degree winds whipping in your face? Is it easy to throw a 3-2 pitch on the edge of the plate with the game on the line as a 50-mph bone-chilling wind tries to blow you off the Peccole mound?
There’s nothing easy about Wolf Pack baseball. It’s the toughest sport on campus by far. Always has been. Always will be as long as they don’t build a dome over Peccole. Powers, who cut his baseball teeth in northern Nevada, knows that better than anyone.
Powers, ever since a doctor told him he had cancer more than 40 years ago, has spent his entire life grateful for the opportunity to play a kid’s game and later to use that kid’s game as a vehicle to mold boys into men. Powers builds competitors out of his young men whether they like it or not.
“We’re here to do more than just teach them how to play baseball,“ Powers said this year. “We’re here to help them mature into adults and give them the skills to succeed in life.”
Gary Powers, a Minden native, is northern Nevada. Powers, a Wolf Pack graduate, is the University of Nevada. Who better to coach this baseball team, a program that not even the university wanted when it named Powers head coach 30 years ago?
Powers, though, has never made it about him. And he’s not going to start now. It’s one reason why he refused to make this season about his contract. Another reason is because it literally embarrasses him to receive any kind of attention.
“All the people who have supported this program, I can’t say enough about those people,” Powers said after winning his 900th game.
If you don’t believe he means it, then you just don’t know Gary Powers all that well.
“This is a team program,” Powers said. “This is a community program and it’s a program for the fans. That’s the way we’ve always wanted it to be. I’ve been fortunate enough to be here. We just want to keep it going.”
Powers has earned the right to keep it going.