Dave Stapleton got just 18 games to prove his Grand Canyon University baseball team was turning things around.
But it wasn’t enough.
In a bold mid-season move, the 10th-year head coach for the Antelopes was dismissed from his position last night after the Antelopes got off to a 6-12 start.
Grand Canyon doesn’t field a football team, so baseball is one of the two ‘major’ sports, along with basketball, that serve as the face of the school’s athletic programs. As the college anticipates a move from NCAA Division II to D-I in a few years, its baseball program also has to show it’s ready to make the jump.
The only statement from the school’s athletic director, Keith Baker, about the dismissal didn’t include a specific reason for the firing. But one has to assume performance on the field was the primary factor.
“I’m very sorry to see Dave go,” explained Baker, “but we will move on and continue our efforts to produce quality teams.”
Evidently, Stapleton hasn’t been giving the school ‘quality teams’ lately.
After a disappointing 12-39 season in 2008, followed by a 17-38 record in 2009, the team broke the .500 plateau last year – but just barely – with a 28-24 finish to the season.
This year, the pre-season polls had them pegged to finish second in the conference and it was generally recognized that the ‘Lopes had the talent to realize those early projections.
Their senior leadership was set, with Tyler Bair bringing his .411 batting average back this year in the outfield and Colin Courtland, who hit .336 last season, returning on the mound. Courtland got a lot of his at-bats as a designated hitter.
Bair is a local product, like so many on the GCU roster each year. He played for Coronado High School in Scottsdale.
Three from this year’s roster were named to the pre-season All-PacWest Conference team, including Bair; second baseman PJ Garcia from Thunderbird High School in Phoenix; and Kalab Evans, a catcher who transferred in from Indian Hills CC.
The ‘Lopes lost their first two conference games and bounced up and down throughout the first half of the schedule, winning and losing, losing and winning.
Stapleton’s best year with the program is well behind him. In 2002, the second year after he was elevated from associate head coach to run the show, the Lopes went 38-21 and advanced to the NCAA Division II West Regional Tournament.
The former Major League pitcher (Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros) has a long association with the college. He pitched for GCU in 1982-83 when the team won an NAIA National Championship and became just the third GCU player to make it to the majors.
Stapleton, who has been involved with the school for 17 years in one capacity or another, was just the third head coach in the history of the baseball program.
He will be replaced, at least on an interim basis, by his six-year assistant, Ryan Bethel – who also has deep roots in the school. Bethel played for the Lopes from 2002-2005 and was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 32nd round of the 2005 draft.