Towson baseball coach relieved his team may have another chance

April 03, 2013|Kevin Cowherd

Mike Gottlieb feels like the Death Row inmate who gets a last-minute reprieve from the governor.

Only in this case, the governor came up with $300,000 out of the state budget to keep Gottlieb's Towson University baseball team alive for a couple more years.

So there was Gottlieb on Wednesday afternoon at Towson's Schuerholz Park, standing in the bright sunshine and biting wind before the Tigers' 5-3 loss to Navy, marveling at what a close call it had been for his team.

"I remember growing up in the 60's," he was saying now, "and there was a Superman episode where they found out a guy who was on Death Row was innocent. But there was a lightning storm and the phones [at the prison] were down!

"So he was being put in the electric chair and Superman flies [in] and breaks through the wall and he puts his arm on the handle that starts the juice and says: 'Sorry about your wall, governor.' And that's kind of like what happened with us."

What a crazy five months it's been for Gottlieb and his players.

In October, they were warned by Towson president Maravene Loeschke that the baseball and soccer programs were in danger of being axed for budget reasons and to comply with Title IX rules for gender equity in sports.

Then in March, Loeschke made it official, the whole thing turning into a huge PR disaster for the school.

Gottlieb and his players said they were kept in the dark until the last minute, then told to appear at a hastily-called news conference with Loeschke. They said Loeschke made the bombshell announcement surrounded by police officers, as if the players were suddenly going to attack her with Louisville Sluggers, and left right away.

Gottlieb, Towson's head coach for 26 years, was furious. The players and their families were angry and bitter. The public outcry, once the media got hold of the story, was predictably loud and overwhelmingly anti-Loeschke.

Then Monday evening, a local sportscaster called Gottlieb and dropped another bombshell: hey, you're not dead yet, pal. Gov. Martin O'Malley was including another $300,000 in his 2014 budget to save baseball.

A shocked Gottlieb immediately started calling his players, some of whom were already making plans to transfer to other schools.

"I told one kid," he said, "and the first words out of his mouth were: 'Is this an April Fool's joke?'"

So now the General Assembly has to approve the money O'Malley wants to cough up. But with the governor's clout in Annapolis, that's probably a done deal.

And there might be good news on the way soon for Towson's soccer program, too.

I say that because also in the house at Towson's game yesterday was Comptroller Peter Franchot, the other state big-wig who's fighting to save Tiger baseball and soccer.

When I asked him if money could be found to save the soccer program, too, he said: "Absolutely. Obviously a big mistake was made getting rid of these two great programs that have been around for decades.

". . . I'm pretty emphatic that the administration at Towson should admit they made a mistake and put the baseball and soccer programs back in place without any probation, and fix the fiscal problems in the athletic program. Obviously there are concerns there, but it's not the fault of the baseball and soccer kids."

But Franchot said while he thinks the governor's "heart is in the right place," he disagrees with using taxpayer money to bail out the baseball program.

". . . It'll open Pandora's box to every other university saying 'Can we get $200,000 for the blocking dummies here?' or ' $300,000 for the lacrosse team or the scoreboard?' It'll be endless. So that's really bad fiscal policy.

"And the fiscal problems in Towson athletics come from overspending and not controlling the budget. Well, get a new athletic director if you can't manage the budget. But don't start eliminating programs arbitrarily."

But Mike Gottlieb wasn't worrying about all that yesterday as the Tigers took the field against Navy.

He had been through so many low points in the last five months. Now he was still riding the high from that Monday phone call that said his players still had a team, and he still had a job — at least for a couple more years.

"I'm optimistic," Gottlieb said. "I'm certainly not in the know. But I'm optimistic."

He paused and laughed.

"I guess the roller coaster is still going up and down. And I'm getting dizzy."

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kevincowherdsun

Listen to Kevin Cowherd at Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on Tuesdays on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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