The search for the next Wichita State baseball coach is on; Loren Hibbs not retained

Interim head coach Loren Hibbs will not be promoted to the permanent head coach of the Wichita State baseball team, according to a release from the Wichita State athletic department on Tuesday morning.

Hibbs was voted the American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year for this past season after taking over the program two months before the start of the season and guiding the Shockers to a 30-25 record and third-place finish in league play.

A national coaching search is already underway, according to WSU athletic director Kevin Saal, who will now make his third high-profile hire during the first year on the job. He recently hired new men’s basketball coach Paul Mills and new women’s basketball coach Terry Nooner.

“Over the last eight months, we have examined the state of our treasured baseball program, its recent challenges and what is needed moving forward,” Saal said in a release. “After careful and comprehensive thought — considering all factors and circumstances — we will launch a national search for a new head baseball coach.

“These decisions weigh heavy on our hearts, because of their resulting impact on the people we care most deeply about … our student-athletes, coaches and Shocker Nation.”

Hibbs officially took over the program on Dec. 8 when Saal announced previous head coach Eric Wedge, who took a leave of absence due to unspecified health issues, would not return to coach the 2023 season in a mutual separation. Wedge received a $675,000 financial settlement, approximately half of the remaining money on his contract.

Hibbs, a former star player and assistant coach with the Shockers, returned to Wichita in 2019 to serve as the director of baseball operations on Wedge’s staff after spending the previous 27 seasons as the head coach at Charlotte.

Hibbs and his staff of pitching coach Mike Pelfrey, another former Shocker star player, recruiting coordinator Mike Sirianni and volunteer assistant coach Conor Behrens kept WSU’s roster intact through a turbulent time, then outperformed preseason expectations to become the first WSU coach to earn conference Coach of the Year honors since Gene Stephenson won the award in the Missouri Valley in 1998.

Since WSU’s season ended last Thursday, six players have already entered the NCAA transfer portal: reliever Jace Miner, outfielder Jordan Rogers, pitcher Austin Wallace, catcher Cooper Harris, catcher Gage Williams and pitcher Parker Dillhoff. Five of the six players are likely searching for more playing time after playing sparingly at WSU this past season, while Miner, a sophomore left-hander, became WSU’s most-trusted arm out of the bullpen with a 2.05 earned run average and .148 opponent batting average in 44 innings pitched.

Among the highlights from this past season included a three-game sweep of No. 7-ranked East Carolina, a victory at No. 16 Oklahoma State (WSU’s first since 2018), a home-and-away sweep of Kansas State (WSU’s first since 2012) and a pair of victories over NCAA-bound Oklahoma.

While WSU had the high-quality victories necessary to make a push for its first NCAA bid since 2013, the Shockers’ postseason chances were extinguished by a 10-18 record against Quadrant 2 and 3 opponents (teams ranked between No. 51 and 150) in the RPI. The Shockers also ended the season 3-8 in their final 11 games with six of the eight losses coming by one or two runs.

Saal had a difficult calculation to make in assessing whether to retain Hibbs as long-term coach of the program. It was clear Hibbs and his staff were well-liked by players and they took a step in the right direction of fostering the right culture within the program. It’s also evident the staff had support from alumni who wanted to see former Shockers restore the program to being an annual postseason team. Multiple sources told The Eagle that Hibbs, 62, was invested in becoming the permanent head coach.

But Saal also had to weigh the fact that WSU once again was not in contention for an at-large bid, marking the 10th straight year the program has missed out on playing in the NCAA Regional.

“To progressively compete for league championships, deep runs in the NCAA Tournament and national championships, we must maintain a selfless commitment to purpose, an elite attention to detail, and a sense of urgency to return this program to Omaha,” Saal said in a release.

With Hibbs’ interim contract set to expire at the end of June, Saal seized the opportunity to hand-pick his own head baseball coach who will try to return the Shockers to postseason play.

The next head coach will be the fourth to try to turn WSU around since Stephenson’s legendary career ended in 2013.