Rice Prepares For Life Without GrahamAnalysis
Legendary Rice head coach Wayne Graham, who led the Owls to a national title in 2003 and is one of the most successful coaches in college baseball history, will not return to the program after the 2018 season, he told D1Baseball.com on Wednesday.
We reported earlier this week that Graham would be meeting with athletic director Joe Karlgaard and university president David Leebron to discuss his future at some point this week. Graham was informed during that meeting that his contract, which expires at the end of June, would not be renewed. Thus, one of the more remarkable coaching tenures our sport has ever seen will come to an end.
“My time here is over on July 1st. My contract will end, as it wasn’t renewed. There’s not much else to say about that,” Graham said. “You know, I still love the teaching part about this game. I’ve always loved the idea that I was doing something that made a difference, whether it be with a guy like Matt Anderson, Wade Townsend, or whomever.
“I was just glad to be able to help,” he continued. “I always loved this job in its entirety, and I hate not to use the skills that I have to teach moving forward. It’s not like I have a disease or a condition where I can’t coach anymore. If I had that, I wouldn’t want to impose on anyone’s situation. But I still believe I have contributions to make. I look at the whole picture and if I didn’t think I could do it, I wouldn’t have stayed in the game as long as I have.”
Graham’s Owls are currently 16-23 overall and will need to win the Conference USA tournament to reach the NCAA postseason in his final campaign. The Owls are used to being in this position. Last year, Rice struggled for much of the season before finishing the regular season on a high note. Still, they had to win the C-USA tournament with a win over Southern Miss to keep their incredible postseason streak alive.
While Graham’s Owls have struggled the past two seasons, and it’s not wrong to question the direction of the program, the overall resume for the 82-year-old skipper is immaculate.
Graham took over the program for the 1992 season. At that point, the Owls had never reached the NCAA tournament and competed in one of the worst facilities in the region. Rice went 29-26 his first campaign and followed that up by hitting the 36-win mark. The Owls were still aiming for an NCAA tourney appearance.
That all changed in 1995, as the Owls tied for second in the Southwest Conference and reached the NCAA postseason, finishing the year with a terrific 43-19 overall record. The Owls’ postseason streak began, and they won more than 44 games 11 times between 1997 and 2008. The Owls have reached the NCAA tourney every year since that ’94 season. It’s an incredible feat for a program that was once considered a punching bag in the Lone Star State.
Overall, Graham has guided the Owls to 23 postseason appearances, 18 conference regular season titles, 11 conference tournament titles, 11 super regionals and seven College World Series appearances.
“I have tremendous respect for Coach Graham and his impact on college baseball both locally and nationally. He is in very elite company in regards to championships won and NCAA appearances,” Houston coach Todd Whitting said. “What has become the standard at Rice was set by him as the program had never won on an elite level prior to Coach Graham’s tenure. I personally have always appreciated his passion for winning and our conversations about the game.”
Graham’s time with the Owls will soon be over, but perhaps his coaching career as a whole isn’t quite finished. The long-time Rice skipper told us last week he’d be open to being a pitching coach should Rice let him go.
“You know, I like coaching pitching,” he said. “I was the pitching coach all those years at San Jacinto (Texas) CC and I was heavily involved with our pitchers on that 2003 team,” he said. “It would be weird for sure, but I’ve had my hand on the pitching here for years, too. I can see raw material in pitchers, but you got to develop them. You got to be able to see it, and I think I still see it.
It will be fascinating to see how the Owls celebrate their long-time head man, and if his career truly has come to an end.
Four Candidates To Watch