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Why OU baseball retiring former coach Enos Semore's jersey was 'really important'

NORMAN — It was fall 1983 and Bobby Witt Sr. was hanging out in his dorm room. That is, until his phone rang.

It was his 52-year-old head coach who was picking him up to go for a cup of coffee and a chat at the Kettle Restaurant, an old breakfast staple on Lindsey Street that closed 15 years later.

Enos Semore had just been told by one of his assistants and Witt Sr.’s pitching coach Stan Meek that his prized right-hander was transferring. Ahead of his first season with OU’s baseball team, Witt Sr. knew he was unable to play due to academic issues and decided to transfer to junior college once winter break arrived.

Semore wasn’t going down without a fight.

“I tell people it was probably the greatest conversation I've ever had,” Witt Sr. recently told The Oklahoman. “It kept me there. I was able to be a Sooner for the next three years and I got drafted, I met my wife. Just so many memories, so many things that I take from that. It really changed my life.”

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Witt Sr.’s life was one of the hundreds affected by the legendary coach, whose No. 24 jersey was retired Saturday during OU's doubleheader against Baylor at L. Dale Mitchell Park, the stadium Semore spearheaded construction of in 1981.

The celebration was extra special. OU rarely retires jerseys and the occasion coincided with the Sooners’ first-ever Big 12 regular-season championship, a feat Semore accomplished seven times in the Big Eight.

“It’s unbelievable,” OU head coach Skip Johnson said after practice Thursday. “I’m glad it’s happening under my watch. Is it long overdue? Probably so, but that’s not my choice. I’m excited so our kids can really see the man who built this program in their lifetime.”

Ask those who were coached by and coached with Semore and they’ll tell you it’s been a long time coming.

“If anybody deserves to have their uniform retired at Oklahoma it's Coach Semore,” said Chris Ebright, who played at OU from 1987-89. “Obviously, not only for the amount of time he spent there and 20-plus years of the positive influence he had on some of the players and coaches that came through there. It's really important that Oklahoma keeps him involved as much as possible.

“I wish he would have been more involved in the past 30 years that he's not been there. But I'm glad they're finally doing what they need to do and are recognizing him.”

Semore, 93, smiled and donned a crimson OU ball cap as a curtain was lifted, revealing No. 24 and his name eternally etched on the padded left field fence. Born in Haskell County, Semore resides in Noble. He and his late wife, Mary, have three children, Lee, Janie and Scott.

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He graduated from Northeastern (Okla.) State University in 1956 and was a four-year letterman in basketball and baseball. Prior to being named the head coach of the Sooners, he spent five seasons leading Bacone Junior College, where he guided the school to the 1967 national JUCO championship.

Semore is the winningest coach in OU baseball history with a 851-370-1 (.697) record. He led the Sooners from 1968-89 and recorded five consecutive College World Series appearances from 1972-76.

“I know that they've won one national championship and Skip of course got to the finals a couple of years ago,” Meek told The Oklahoman, “but Coach Semore set the tone in terms of what's expected on the side of winning and being competitive and having competitive players. Not only that, but having quality people.”

The five straight CWS appearances stick out on Semore’s resume, but the 22 seasons he poured into Sooners baseball likely won’t be replicated.

In an era defined by coaches sometimes jumping ship at the first sign of turbulence in a program, Semore’s recognition is refreshing. Johnson remembers the old Big Eight days and has memories of watching Semore coach OU.

“It was everything,” Johnson said. “He was one of the icons. You thought of him, (former Pan American coach Al Ogletree), (former Texas coach Cliff Gustafson), (former Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson), you thought of all those guys as a coach when I was coming up through it.

“We try to carry that torch. I know I try to carry that torch. How he went about the business and how our kids act on a daily basis, whether it’s getting on a plane, going into a restaurant, taking your hats off, doing the things that guy set the example for us to do a long time ago. And then on the field, playing the game the right way.”

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A decade before Semore’s talk with Witt Sr., Meek and his teammates endured full practices in the freezing late January temperatures.

“The wind is out of the south,” Semore would tell them, “and anytime the wind’s out of the south, it’s warm.”

In around 15 years as both a player and coach alongside Semore, Meek never saw him get thrown out of a game. He’s remembered for the way he handled himself and kept his emotions in control.

He is also a man who doesn't take excuses.

That’s who he is and the kind of coach he was. Tough and insightful with a sense of humor.

And Saturday when Semore’s former players showed up for his jersey retirement, the wind was blowing from the south.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU baseball retires jersey of ex-coach Enos Semore, 'one of the icons'