FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE
MOBILE, Ala. – He’s led the University of South Alabama baseball program to more than 1,000 victories, numerous NCAA Tournament appearances and Sun Belt Conference championships, and had more than 100 of his student-athletes go on to sign professional contracts. His contributions to the program, as both a player and a coach, led to his induction in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
With more than 30 years of service to Jaguar baseball, head coach Steve Kittrell’s amazing run at USA will be coming to a close. Kittrell announced his retirement, effective at the end of the 2011 season, Wednesday at a press conference at the Mitchell Center.
“It was a dream come true just to get this job. Coach [Eddie] Stanky built this program from scratch, and I was fortunate to play for him on his first team,” he said. “To be able to come back and coach after him has been quite a thrill, quite a responsibility and an honor. The relationships you build with the players – and not just the ones who start and make it to the big leagues, but also those who have gone on to become lawyers, doctors, engineers and business people – have been rewarding.”
“Words cannot fully describe the total impact of Coach Kittrell’s years of loyal service to the University of South Alabama and the proud Jaguar baseball program,” observed USA Director of Athletics Dr. Joel Erdmann. “His competitive nature and excellence in the profession has placed him in a category in which he has been recognized by his peers as one of the premier coaches in the country for the past three decades. That he is not only the longest-tenured baseball coach at USA, but the longest-tenured coach in any program here, is a testament to his character as well as his abilities on the field.
“It’s truly impressive when you think about the number of individuals – be it fellow coaches, administrators or student-athletes – he has touched over the years at USA.”
Kittrell will enter his final season, his 28th guiding the Jaguars, among the all-time leaders in NCAA history in victories – with a career mark of 1,055-630-1 (62.6%) including a 33-19 campaign at Spring Hill in 1983, he stands 45th all-time for wins at all divisions and 34th at the Division I level. Among active coaches, Kittrell ranks 10th in total victories and is also among the top 40 in winning percentage. He became the 50th coach in NCAA history – and the 37th in Division I – to reach the 1,000-win milestone when the Jags knocked off sixth-ranked Ole Miss on Feb. 22, 2009, while he picked up his 1,000th victory as head coach at South Alabama when the Jaguars defeated UALR 3-0 in their Sun Belt opener on March 12 this year.
Kittrell also became the most successful coach in school history when he surpassed his mentor, former USA coach Eddie Stanky, on the career victory list during the 1996 season. Actually, among the top 10 active wins leaders in Division I, only Kittrell, Pete Dunn (Stetson), Jim Gilligan (Lamar), Mark Marquess (Stanford) and Mike Martin (Florida State) have led their alma maters to 1,000 or more victories. “I think that since I’ve been at the school where I played that I have taken a lot of pride in that,” he stated.
In leading the Jags to a winning record on 24 occasions, Kittrell has guided the program to 18 NCAA Tournament appearances – coming within a game of advancing to the College World Series six times – 14 SBC regular season and division titles, and eight league tournament championships. In his first season at USA, he helped the Jags finish 50-19, the second-best mark in school history, and to a runner-up finish at the South I Regional in Tallahassee, Fla. Since then, Kittrell has guided the Jaguars to 40 or more victories 13 times, including six years in a row from 1987-92.
He returned the Jags to an NCAA Regional in ’87, where they would again finish as runner-up, while in 1989 he helped start a streak of five consecutive regional appearances. USA advanced to a regional nine straight seasons beginning in 1995, adding back-to-back NCAA appearances in 2005 and ’06 as well – the Jaguars fell in the regional championship to the eventual CWS winner in 1993 (LSU), ’97 (LSU) and ’98 (USC).
“When you’re one game from Omaha, even though it has been six times I can just about tell you about all those memories whether it was 1984 facing Miami in the last game to go to the World Series or in ’87 when Paul Sorrento hit a grand slam in the first inning to decide who would go,” Kittrell remembered. “All the cards were falling for us in 1990 when we beat UCLA, but Joey Hamilton – who had a great Major League career – came out of the bullpen for Georgia Southern to beat us. Todd Walker called a team meeting for LSU when we were up 3-2 on them in the seventh, but they came back to win, and we had already beaten LSU when they hit eight home runs against us in two games on the final day. We were the only team to beat them in the postseason. And if Juan Pierre’s bunt isn’t foul by two inches, we have the bases loaded and nobody out against Southern Cal but instead we lose two one-run games and they go to Omaha.
“All those memories are like they happened yesterday.”
The Jaguars’ 18 NCAA Regional berths since 1984 are tied for 17th among Division I schools during that span. Among the victims USA has claimed for its 29 NCAA wins during that stretch are Baylor, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Long Beach State, LSU, Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma and UCLA.
In conference play, Kittrell led USA to regular-season and tournament titles his first season, going on to claim division championships five straight years beginning in 1990. Since the league adopted round-robin play prior to the 1995 campaign, the Jags have earned seven regular season championships including four in a row from 2001-04.
Also, Kittrell has had 14 of his squads finish in the top 30 of either the Baseball America or Collegiate Baseball final polls.
For his efforts, he has been selected the Sun Belt Coach of the Year on six occasions while earning two regional coaching accolades. He was also voted the all-time head coach on the SBC’s 30th anniversary team in 2006.
Individually, Kittrell has coached 22 All-Americans, 41 all-region selections, 77 all-conference individuals and a pair of players who have earned Academic All-America recognition – that includes five standouts who were chosen the Sun Belt Player of the Year and another named the Pitcher of the Year. With three seniors from this season’s squad having been drafted or signed by professional teams, Kittrell has had more than 100 of his student-athletes continue their careers after finishing at USA including 17 who have reached the Major Leagues.
From 1968-71 Kittrell compiled a batting average of .368, a record that still stands as the highest among four-year lettermen at USA. He was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993.
“Steve Kittrell has had an indelible positive impact on the University of South Alabama’s storied baseball program through his impressive record of victories and his mentorship of thousands of young men who have gone on to make their mark in baseball and a wide range of other careers,” stated USA President Gordon Moulton. “The University of South Alabama family wishes him well as he enters this new chapter in his life, and we will depend on his counsel as we seek a new leader to continue the rich tradition of Jaguar baseball.”
After earning a degree in health, physical education and recreation from South Alabama in 1971, Kittrell went on to sign a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox organization. He spent one season in the Florida State League before returning to his alma mater where he served a one-year stint as graduate assistant coach.
Kittrell began his head coaching career at Niceville (Fla.) High School in 1973 after earning his master’s degree from USA in physical education. In two years at NHS, he recorded a 35-15 (70%) mark. He would then move on to coach the UMS Bulldogs in Mobile, leading the school to a 95-34 (73.6%) record in five seasons including its first-ever state championship in any sport during the 1978 campaign.
In between stints at UMS Prep School, Kittrell became the head coach at Enterprise State (Ala.) Junior College, recording back-to-back winning seasons while putting together a 52-30 (63.4%) record in 1979-80. In 1983, he took over at Spring Hill, where he would guide the Badgers to the NAIA District 30 championship and a berth in the national tournament. In his only season at the school, he collected three coaching honors as he was named District 30 Coach of the Year, Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Co-Coach of the Year and NAIA Area Two Tournament Coach of the Year.
“I wish I had written a book, because there are a lot of funny things that happen when you’re dealing with young kids,” said Kittrell. “The good thing about South Alabama is that we have been fortunate to have a lot of good kids off the field, which has been very rewarding.”
A national search will commence immediately for an associate head coach, who will serve under Kittrell as a head coach in waiting and take over the reins of the program following the conclusion of the 2011 campaign.
“We haven’t performed up to South Alabama’s standards the last three or four years, and that’s disappointing,” commented Kittrell. “But I want the program back on top, and I think all of our former players want that too. We took a step in the right direction last year, hopefully this season we can take it a lot further and get us back. I know that President Moulton and Dr. Erdmann are going to hire the best guy for the job, and I will be 100 percent behind him.”
For more information about South Alabama athletics, check back with www.usajaguars.com. Season tickets for all Jaguar athletic events can be purchased by calling (251) 461-1USA (1872).