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 CollegeBaseballInsider.com.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.