It’s been 13 games and almost three weeks since Grand Canyon University unexpectedly fired its head baseball coach, Dave Stapleton, who had been involved with the program for the past 17 years.
So how’s the bold, mid-season move working out for the Antelopes?
Actually, pretty well… so far. Stapleton’s assistant coach, Ryan Bethel, was given the interim head coach title and he’s managed to put together a 10-3 mark since taking over. The ‘Lopes are on a five-game win streak as they prepare for a pair of doubleheaders against conference leader, Dixie State, this weekend.
They have outscored their opponents, 137-74, over the span of 13 games – including a win in their third game under the new boss in which they scored 25 runs.
Stapleton, who played his college ball at GCU and then returned to accept an assistant coaching position before taking the reins of the baseball program 10 years ago, got off to a rough start this season, winning just 6 of the first 18 games.
But he was already on thin ice after going 12-39, 17-38, and 28-24 the last three seasons. His best year was in 2002 when the Lopes went 38-21 and advanced to the NCAA Division II West Regional Tournament.
He was just the third head coach in the history of the GCU program.
Bethel, too, has roots in the Grand Canyon program. He played for the school from 2002-05 and started all 47 games at shortstop in his senior season, while also going .382 at the plate.
He was selected by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 32nd round of the Major League draft, made his minor league pro debut with the Princeton Devil Rays in 2005, and was later assigned to the Class A Visalia Oaks.
A graduate of Willcox High School, which won three state titles while he was there, he was on the GCU staff as an assistant for six years, but this is his first head coaching gig. At any level.
The move by the administration was somewhat unexpected. The team was 6-12, but 10 of those losses were by two runs or fewer.
It was an especially difficult transition for Bethel because the two men were very close. He played his college ball for Stapleton and then was helped by his coach to make the jump to the pro’s. And, finally, he was hired by Stapleton to begin his coaching career.
The firing of Stapleton understandably resulted in some resentment and instability in the program, but Bethel appears to have calmed the waters and the team broke the .500 mark with their last win against Hawai’i Hilo on Sunday. Their overall record stands at 16-15.
Tyler Bair, a senior outfielder from Coronado High School who is being counted on for another strong year at the plate (batted .411 last season), hit .550 in the five-game series just completed. And Colin Courtland, who also is a major contributor with his bat, picked up his second complete game of the season on the mound.
The Lopes will need that kind of effort from the entire team against Dixie State (13-3), which is four games ahead of GCU in the Pacific West Conference, sitting in first place.
After those four games, there will be a much clearer picture of how the coaching change is really progressing.
(Photo: GCU Athletics)