PULLMAN — In late January, Pat Chun took the first step toward improving the baseball product at Washington State, getting approval to move forward with $10 million renovations to Bailey-Brayton Field.
But major facility upgrades were just one component of his “Back to Omaha” mission.
With three games to play, Chun made a change in the Cougars’ dugout Tuesday, firing fourth-year coach Marty Lees as the baseball team continued to veer further and further away from a return to Omaha, Neb., and the College World Series.
The Cougars, who have an 11-39-1 record heading into the final series of the year against Arizona, are guaranteed to finish with the worst mark of Lees’ tenure and will extend their postseason drought to nine years.
Lees went 70-137-2 in his time and WSU and just 32-83-2 in Pac-12 play.
Associate head coach Dan Spencer will serve as the interim coach for this weekend’s series against Arizona as WSU begins a national search for Lees’ successor.
The 2019 season, one in which the Cougars failed to win a Pac-12 series, has easily been Lees’ worst. WSU will presumably finish at the bottom of the Pac-12 standings and dead-last in both runs scored and allowed. Lees was fired exactly one week after an embarrassing 20-13 loss to Utah Valley.
Former WSU athletic director Bill Moos hired Lees largely because of his impact on the college baseball powerhouse at Pac-12 rival Oregon State, where Lees had been the top assistant to longtime coach Pat Casey.
Lees’ experience in the Pac-12 and his understanding of the recruiting landscape on the West Coast, and Pacific Northwest in particular, were supposed to help WSU climb out of the conference cellar and return to the glory days of the 1970s and 80s.
That never came to fruition as WSU finished with losing records in each of Lees’ four seasons at the helm, despite showing some improvement in 2017, when the Cougars wedged a 24-19 record between a 19-35 record in 2016 and a 16-33 record in 2018.
Lees’ firing means Chun has now replaced coaches in three of the four “major” sports at WSU. Chun, who was hired last January, hired Kamie Ethridge to replace women’s basketball coach June Daugherty and recently made a change in men’s basketball, replacing Ernie Kent with Kyle Smith.