The team lacked a spark and the university knew it.
They failed to draw crowds, failed to make the postseason, failed to properly renovate an aging ballpark, and failed to land recruits that were leaving the area for greener pastures out of state. It was time for a change, and that change was made yesterday when University of Washington head baseball coach Ken Knutson was terminated after 17 seasons at the helm.
Though you never want to see anyone lose their job these days, Knutson had been underachieving for some time. His team was shut out of postseason play in each of the past five years. Two of those five seasons coincided with the rise of one of the greatest players in Washington history donning the Husky uniform. And even Tim Lincecum couldn’t carry this mediocre ballclub into the playoffs.
It didn’t help matters that Northwest rival Oregon State won back-to-back National Championships in 2006 and 2007, or that intrastate foe Washington State found their way to the NCAA Tournament this past season.
With neighboring universities accruing much of the local talent that Knutson should have uncovered, then utilizing that talent to win ballgames, it was time to unseat the captain from his ship.
Opponents of the firing would argue that Knutson is the winningest coach in the program’s history. That’s a storied record, to be sure, but is more a testament to longevity than consistency.
Knutson landed the head coaching gig in 1993 and skippered the team to six postseason appearances. Much of his success came early on, however, with Washington winning conference titles in 1996 and 1997. The recent failures of the Washington baseball program put the writing on the wall for the longtime coach.
The university has announced that they will begin an immediate search for Knutson’s replacement. With a number of high-energy, high-profile coaches in place throughout the athletic department (Steve Sarkisian, Lorenzo Romar, Heather Tarr, and Jim McLaughlin, among others), the new baseball coach will have the bar raised upon his arrival.
He’ll also have his work severely cut out for him, both on the playing field (where the Huskies concluded ’09 with a 25-30 record) and in the recruiting battle with other schools.
The sad reality is that most local sports fans have reached a level of apathy with the University of Washington baseball team. That needs to change. Let’s just hope that the actions of yesterday were the building blocks to the successes of tomorrow.