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Wilson Still Has Passion for Game of Ball and Bat
April 29, 2014
By Mark Janssen
If one was to name the most successful baseball coaches in Kansas State history, it's likely the name of current coach Brad Hill would be mentioned, or perhaps Bob Brasher, who skippered the Wildcats in the 1960s and early-1970s, or perhaps Mike Clark, who had a 17-year run as coach of the Purples.
But Phil Wilson?
The name's not likely to be mentioned by most... but it should be. Coaching the Wildcats for a five-year span from 1973 through 1977, here's what Wilson-coached teams accomplished without even a hint of what the scholarship numbers are today, pennies compared to the big dollar budget figure of today, and certainly he didn't have the snazzy facilities of today.
- Wilson's winning percentage of .568 is the highest for any coach since 1948.
- Wilson's teams won 35 and 31 games in two of his five seasons. The 35 wins in a single season was a K-State all-time record until 2009, and still ranks as the fourth highest in school history.
- Wilson's teams finished in the first half of the rugged Big 8 Conference an unprecedented four times in his five seasons.
Oh, and Wilson accomplished these feats as a 25-year-old, serving as a head coach for the first time at any level.
BECOMING A WILDCAT
Kansas State coach Bob Brasher had landed a high-profile recruit named Gene Lamont out of Kirkland, Ill., who happened to have a teammate by the name of Phil Wilson.
Months later, Lamont, who is now a bench coach of the Detroit Tigers, became a high draft choice in the 1965 draft and opted for professional baseball, leaving Wilson to come to K-State solo.
"It was kind of scary to come 650 miles away, but it all worked out," said Wilson.
While his career record shows only a 1-2 won-loss record, Wilson did produce a stingy 2.47 ERA while working 51 innings in the 1967, 1968 and 1969 seasons before being sidelined with an arm injury during his senior campaign.
While helping with the baseball team after graduation, Wilson got involved with Fritz Knoor, who was in charge of Kansas State athletic facilities, and he became involved with athletic director Ernie Barrett's fund raising efforts.
"He got me involved in the Steer-A-Year program, and we'd go to western Kansas and get up at five in the morning to go look at the corn with farmers. I'm not sure how much of that you see today," Wilson reflected. "There was a mutual admiration and loyalty. Those farmers weren't there to tell you who should start at quarterback, but they wore purple and were K-Staters."
Wilson's passion for K-State didn't go unnoticed as when Brasher left as baseball coach following the 1972 season, Barrett named Wilson to lead the Wildcat baseball team.
"It worked out pretty well," said Wilson when asked if he was ready to be a head coach at the Big 8 level at such a tender age. "The circumstances were right. K-State was right in the middle of Title IX, so they were looking to save money wherever they could. I'd proven to be good at a couple things like cleaning the stadium, doing some fund raising, and working long hours, plus they knew I had purple in my veins. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time."
Wilson had less than four baseball scholarships to divide among a 30-man roster, but he chuckles about the total education provided to these Wildcats of the mid-1970s.
"Our players painted what needed to be painted, and we loaded pickups with sod and sodded the field," said Wilson. "Then when we needed bleachers, we would go over to Ahearn to tear down several sections of bleachers and then put them back up at the baseball field."
It was also under Wilson's supervision that the backdrop of evergreen trees to Frank Myers Field were planted over four decades ago.
And, it was also Wilson that recruited Kansas State's two highest profile pitchers not named Elden Auker. Those right-handers were Ted Power and Andy Replogle. Power went on to a 13-year Major League career, while to this day Replogle holds Kansas State records for complete games, career wins and career strikeouts. Both were on minimal scholarships.
With a tone of satisfaction, Wilson said, "Enos Semore (Oklahoma's coach) used to laugh at me because of our facility and the fact that he had over 10 times the money we did, but we had pretty good success with limited resources."
STILL COACHING TODAY
After leaving K-State following the 1977 season, Wilson began a three-year stint as director of athletics at Fort Hays State University - "I wanted to be another Ernie Barrett," he said - which was followed by purchasing from Brasher the prestigious "Sho-Me Baseball Camp" in Branson, Mo.
With the itch to coach again, Wilson joined the North Arkansas College family, which is a Division III junior college located south of Branson in Harrison, Ark.
Twenty-two seasons later, Wilson is still at the school and recently recognized for his 700th Northark Pioneer coaching win, which ran his career total to 858 (and counting) as a head coach at all levels.
"This is the purest form of baseball," said the 67-year-old Wilson, who has produced 15 players who have played at some level of professional baseball. "We offer no scholarships, so everyone is at the same level. You're teaching the game to a lot of small-town kids who haven't played many games and we give them the opportunity to play a lot. In the fall we'll scrimmage all day - some days 36 innings - so there's the opportunity to get better. We may not be as talented at the beginning, but we're hungry to learn."
That learning extends to the classroom where, as Wilson says, "I am the physical education department" teaching up to 15 academic hours per week in first aid, sports officiating and baseball theory.
"Our classes are small, so you know the name of everyone who comes through the door," Wilson said. "We offer a wide range of classes, which includes the technical side. If you want to be a welder, you can do that and be a baseball player, too."
On the field, Wilson laughs when comparing today's player to that of yesteryear.
"The baseball is the same," he said. "The haircuts are different, the earrings are different and the tattoos are different, but the game of baseball, and how you teach it, hasn't changed. I'm still having a lot of fun with it."