Kevin Cooney

Kevin Cooney spent 21 seasons as head coach at Florida Atlantic University. He announced his retirement in April, effective at the end of the season. Cooney compiled a record of 750-480-5 with the Owls and 888-530-10 in his 25-year career as a head coach. Cooney had 10 consecutive winning seasons at Florida Atlantic and winning campaigns in 17 of his 21 years. Cooney has spent the past five seasons offering his thoughts on baseball - and other things - for


June 10, 2008

How Does It Feel?

If you ever had the chance to hear Bob Dylan live, you will remember the plaintive wail he uses to drive home the urgency of the question he asks in this, the chorus of his classic Like A Rolling Stone.

It's the question that has permeated my consciousness as the season, and my career, recently wound down to its finish. If there was a constant in any conversation with people, it was that question.

How does it feel to see good friend and former FIU coach Danny Price walk into your dugout during the rain delay at your last home game? I knew the demons Danny faced as he drove north to the scene of his final game last year. It was his first time at a college game since that fateful day when he was fired after 21 years, but he said he had to be there to see me, and say goodbye.

How does it feel to play the final regular season series at FIU with a conference tournament berth at stake? We clinched our spot with a Friday-night win, but after losing Saturday, we felt the pressure of that final game even more than we had hoped.

The last inning found us trying desperately to hold a one-run lead with Mickey Storey on the mound nursing a tender arm gunning for his first save in three years.

After two quick outs, everything fell apart as Mickey's face showed the twinge he felt delivering Strike 1 to the last hitter. We rushed in a relief pitcher, but Brett Cannon had thrown the day before and wasn't right. Our last option was freshman Rickey Anaya with a grand total of two innings pitched.

I handed Anaya the ball, smiled and said, "Give him the heater, Rickey!" A base hit and a game-ending fly ball later, center fielder David Wilson handed me the game ball and said "I thought you might like to keep this one."

How does it feel to arrive in Lafayette
, La., for the final conference tournament of your life? A 34-year coaching career is now possibly down to two more games.

Instead of a stuffy pre-tournament banquet, Associate SBC Commissioner Rick Mello and host coach Tony Robicheaux planned an on-field Cajun cook-out, followed by an awards ceremony, the first SBC Home Run Derby and an impressive fireworks display.

After chowing down, the coaches were introduced to start the festivities. As each head coach was announced, they gave a little wave as the fans applauded. Suddenly Rick was waving me to come to home plate as I realized I was the last name yet to be called. The UL PA announcer read a complimentary pack of lies from my publicist, and Rick gave me a hug and a nice plaque from the conference office. The UL fans and I have developed a pretty good relationship since our visit last year, and their applause that night was heartfelt and touching.

How does it feel to face a bracket filled with coaches who have become friends over the past two years and realize that one of them might end your career? We opened play against Chris Finwood and his Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the traditional "
9:00 AM Cooney Game.” Last year we played all three of our games at that ungodly hour, and Finny joked it had been named in my honor. We might be friends, but Finwood's job was to beat me. And he did…like a drum!

So now it's another early-morning game against Steve Peterson and his Blue Raiders from Middle Tennessee State. Just last year, we played each other twice in the morning game, and each time Steve came out on top. This time was different as Alex Silversmith blasted a seventh-inning grand slam to ensure our stay in Lafayette. I promised Pete I'd make the trek from Loudon to Murfreesboro to see him again next year.

How does it feel to be 45 minutes away from facing the No. 1 seed and conference champion Warhawks from ULM and learn your starting pitcher needs to be replaced?

Sometimes college kids don't think before doing something stupid. This wasn't my first rodeo, but I knew a rule violation put me in the position of not using the player involved. The problem was, we didn't have another starter left - Storey was on the shelf, and Kloess had pitched a solid seven-plus innings in relief the first day. I wrestled with my decision for a time and then went to Adam Morrison who had earlier told me he felt good for about two innings of relief that night. I told Moe his two innings would be at the start of the game; we'd make up the rest as we went along.

Adam gave us a solid six and one-third innings. He thought the third would be his last, but got a second wind, as we built a shaky 4-2 lead. Glen Troyanowski had thrown two innings the day before - his first outing since March, so he was unavailable.

Chris Eberhart had a tough career, but the senior is a great kid with a lot of heart. He also recently seemed to have found his 90-mph fastball and developed a sharper breaking slider. Our fate, and the ball were handed to Chris.

Eleven ULM batters came to the plate, and eleven took a right and headed back to the dugout. A great fastball, dominating slider and some spectacular fielding contributed to one of the best relief performances in FAU history. ULM's Coach Schexnaider gave me a sincere hug, and I told him he should be proud of the season he and his team had produced. They played harder and tougher than anyone we faced all year.

I lost my composure and showed a great deal of emotion as I hugged a few guys and looked for a corner in which to hide. My tears had nothing to do with dodging a career-ending bullet. It was an emotional release that the risk I took for the discipline of the team didn't end the season for our seniors. I've had a lot of seasons - they've only had four, and I prayed not to spoil it for them.

How does it feel to dress again, for what could be your last game, and find a hot muggy day waiting for your kids? The Hilltoppers again awaited as Jeff Beliveau took the mound two days after WKU had knocked him around. This time, the Rhode Island left-hander was up to the task, until he was ejected in the seventh for arguing a call at first and then spitting as he returned to the mound. The base umpire felt Jeff spat at him, despite being 50 feet away. Not even Roberto Alomar can spit that far.

The game tightened, and so did the bodies of the players involved. Shortstop Nick Arata had to be carried off the field and given an IV after severe cramping in every part of his body. Catcher Alex Silversmith was next, as his lower body betrayed him with each squat. We were down to one position player on the bench with a one-run lead and two out in the ninth.

Again I called on Chris Eberhart, and again the future physician was up to the task. Ebs retired the last hitter to give him 12 straight outs and two saves in less than 14 hours! It was time to get ready for another game that night, with a place in the championship at stake.

How does it feel to have another one-run game with WKU, but this time on the losing end? It was a gutsy performance by Mike Obradovich on one day's rest nailing down innings as we built a 4-0 lead only to see a five-run seventh hurt our chances. A wild pitch plated the go-ahead run for the Hilltoppers. Some shaky baserunning at the end sealed our fate, and the season was in the books.

How does it feel to have the chance for so many different people to say nice things about you? Usually a person is lying in a pine box when people speak well of them, but I've been fortunate. The last few weekends and the tournament have seen opposing players wish me luck with the rest of my life. They don't even know me, but their parents need to be proud that their boys showed such class.

Umpires and coaches have an interesting relationship. I've been tough on umpires, I know, but I've also tried to inject humor, humanity and a short memory into our dealings. I consider many of them friends and thank them for putting up with me over the years. I was touched deeply by the comments many of them were nice enough to recently make.

Chris Finwood was quoted as saying he didn't want to be the one to end my career. I'm glad it was someone like Chris. He and his coaches and team played a great tournament and they richly deserve the tournament they won.

My other peers were kind and gracious to me all week, and I value their friendship. I had an assistant tell me it was an honor to coach against me. It's tough to put into words what those sentiments mean to me, but I thank all those who have been so kind.

How does it feel to say goodbye to your players?

Every year, a group of seniors share hugs, handshakes and tears as we say our farewells. Each year is tough, but as a coach, you know there are others waiting in line to be the next group.

But this time 'round it's different.

I had to say goodbye to everyone. It isn't easy, because the sense of finality sets in at that point. I'll never do this again, but I thank God I got to do it for so long.

How does it feel to be cutting your grass on Memorial Day as the NCAA Selection Show goes on without you? Well, walking behind a lawn mower in the blistering Florida sun gives you ample time to reflect on many things – most of which I just typed. But the toughest part was realizing there will never be another day for me to share all of this with so many.

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown

My wife came out bringing a drink and found me in the garage crying. That's how it feels.

Twenty-one years ago I headed south on I-95 from New Jersey to Boca Raton
, Fla., wide-eyed and anxious to see where that road might take me. As I turned down Glades Road and toward the campus of Florida Atlantic University, my head was filled with thoughts of the impact I would make on FAU Baseball.

Twenty-one years burning down the road, I realize the opposite is true. The players, coaches and community of Florida Atlantic and college baseball have impacted me far beyond what I could have ever imagined.

I thank all of them for the ride.