Pat Casey stood against the wall about halfway up the auditorium in the Valley Football Center on Friday and watched as one of his former players, Mitch Canham, was introduced as Oregon State’s next baseball coach.
It was quite a different reception than the one Casey received — in reality he didn’t receive any fanfare — when he took over the OSU program in 1994.
Casey told the story about how he walked into Gill Coliseum and found the door to the baseball office locked. So he headed down to the administrative office and asked the women there for a set of keys.
“She asked me who I was,” Casey said.
Some 25 years later, everyone knows who Casey is — a three-time national championship coach with 900 victories in a Beavers uniform.
Casey has built Oregon State into a national power and one of the dream destinations for almost any coach in the country.
But when he seemingly begrudgingly announced his retired some 10 months ago and then a week or so ago said he would not return to the dugout for next season, Casey knew that only a Beaver would be the right fit to replace him and keep the program going strong.
However, he knew the decision was ultimately up to athletic director Scott Barnes.
Still Casey did have some input.
“I was fortunate because Scott gave me that freedom that he knew that I really believed it needed to be a Beaver to carry this thing on,” Casey said. “And then when you have three incredible candidates (Canham, Pat Bailey and Nate Yeskie) that I got to work with, be part of, they were Beavers.
“Then he gave me that distance that he knew how uncomfortable it was for me to be around that. It was a perfect mix. Great, great candidates here. It worked out just fine.”
Casey said he never had conversations with Canham about coaching when he was the starting catcher and helping the Beavers make three straight trips to the College World Series, including back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007.
But he knew then, and still believes today, that no matter what Canham decides to do in life, he will be successful.
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“When you coached him, you knew whatever he decided to do, he was going to be great at it,” Casey said.
If there is one knock on Canham — who managed the last two-plus seasons in the Seattle Mariners’ organization — beating out Bailey and Yeskie for the position, it could be that he has never coached in college and has not had to recruit players.
Casey didn’t seem too concerned.
“I think recruiting is getting to know people,” he said. “I think recruiting is someone believing in who you are. The program right now speaks for itself. Mitch doesn’t have to come in and sell the program. He’s got assistants that are working for him, our recruiting class is already done for this year and next year’s is well, well deep into it.
“I think that that’s going to be an easy transition because I think of how well the coaches will work with him.”
Then Casey added with a touch of humor: “The complicated thing in recruiting is just following the NCAA decision to change the rules every other week, you know. He’ll be fine. He’s a bright man.”
Casey said he often spoke to his former staff last season — “one time I told Bailes ... ‘hey man the only difference between you and I is I’m going to go sleep tonight. We both are upset about losing but I get to sleep tonight.’ — and expects to do the same thing this coming season.
While he stayed away from Goss Stadium last season despite his son, Joe, playing, he said he did watch every game either live on the road, on TV or via live stream.
“I wanted that year gap to respect everybody,” Casey said. “And not oh, what would coach Casey do? That’s why I didn’t go to home games. I could shake my head about something and somebody would say, ‘oh, he would have done it differently.’ I was just never going to do that. It wasn’t fair to the players, it wasn’t fair to Bailes in particular.”
Casey also said he felt the entire staff did a remarkable job last season dealing with youth, inexperience and a rash of tough injuries to go 36-20-1 and earn the right to host a regional.
“I don’t think people realize how many injuries they sustained and got through that, how many guys they lost,” Casey said. “You know, I think there was four weeks left in the season and we were 17-4 (in the Pac-12) and ranked I think third in the country. And then everybody thinks ah at the end, well I tell you what, you lose (Mitchell) Verburg and (Brandon) Eisert down the stretch. Tough.
“I thought they did a phenomenal job.”
While the Beavers have officially moved on from the Pat Casey era with the hiring of Canham, does that mean Casey has hung up his coaching cleats for good?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just enjoying the day for Mitch, I’m enjoying the day for the OSU Beaver baseball program. And I’m humbled to be part of it.”