Wells Gets Win Number 488

University of Alabama head baseball coach Jim Wells became the school's all-time winningest coach with a 4-3 win over Appalachian State Friday night at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.

Wells notched his 488th win at the school to surpass Dr. Barry Shollenberger's record of 487 career wins. Wells has compiled a 488-228 (.682) record in 12 seasons at the Capstone. Shollenberger was 487-334-1 (.534) in his 15-year tenure as head coach from 1980-94.

"It means a lot," Wells said after the game. "It was nice to see Coach (Hootie) Ingram and a lot of former players here tonight. Coach (Mal) Moore and the administration have been very supportive of me and my family. I appreciate this very much.

"I've never been a part of anything like this before," Wells said. "This was a lot fun and I really appreciate all that went into making this night possible."

Wells was presented with a cake (shaped like a baseball with No. 488 on the cake) and a game ball. He was also greeted on the field by his wife Lisa and three children, Lauren, Melissa and Drew.

A number of former players came out to see their old coach break the school record, including G.W. Keller (1997-99), Antonio Bostic (1998-99), BJ Green (1998-2001), Scott McClanahan (1999-2002), Scott Evans (2000-01), Adam Pavkovich (2001-03), Gabe Scott (2001-05), Bo Hannah (2002-03), Morrow Thomley (2004-05) and Matt Grooms (2004-05).

He also received congratulatory phone calls from Andy Phillips, Dax Norris, Chris Moller, Jason Cox and Dan Chavers.

Wells came to Alabama after the 1994 season. Alabama had just completed one of the worst seasons in school history with a 21-35 overall record. The Crimson Tide's 4-24 record in SEC play set school futility records for fewest wins and most losses. Wells quickly changed that.

Dax Norris, who was the starting catcher at Alabama in 1995-96, recalled the first time he met his college coach.

Norris, who hailed from LaGrange, Ga., visited the UA campus in the summer before his junior season with Paul Pickett, a linebacker on the UA football team and high school mate of Norris at LaGrange High School.

"I came up here in the summer with Paul Pickett just to look around and I stopped by to see Coach Wells," Norris recalled. "I remember walking into his office and saying, "Hi, I'm Dax Norris and I am your starting catcher." He looked at me like I was crazy. He was thinking who is this 5-9 guy? He never judged a guy by the way looked, but how he played. The first time he saw me though was pretty funny."

Norris and his mates quickly transformed the UA baseball program starting with the season opener against Middle Tennessee.

Alabama won the game 2-1 in 11 innings when Brett Taft legged out an infield hit with two outs to score Anthony DuBose from third base with the winning run.

"I remember it well," Norris said. "Brett Taft beat out an infield hit and we won the game in the 11th inning. That was kind of the way our season went. We battled from there, just like Coach Wells taught us to do. That was a huge win to get us going. It was a real good game and coach told us to find a way to win this game, and we did."

The win catapulted the 1995 team to a 40-win season, the SEC Western Division Tournament Championship (Norris hit a two-run HR to jump start the ninth inning rally) and a berth in the NCAA East Regional at Clemson before bowing out in the championship game.

The following year, Alabama captured the SEC Championship, another SEC Tourney crown and hosted its first ever NCAA Regional at the Sewell-Thomas. After wins over Princeton, South Alabama, Stetson and Virginia, Alabama was off to Omaha and the College World Series for the first time since 1983.

"I thought we'd have a good team," Norris said. "He had a great coaching staff. We had guys that bought into his system and wanted to win. All 30 guys believed in the same things. I have learned a lot of things from him, things I still use today. I felt like we had a good team, especially in 1996. He made us feel that way whether we were or not."

Alabama went back to Omaha in 1997 (lost in the championship game to LSU) and again in 1999. The once proud baseball program that had fallen on hard times, was back in the national spotlight.

The Crimson Tide averaged 43.5 wins per season in Wells first 11 years. His teams have won one SEC Championship (1996), six SEC Tourney titles (1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2003) and played in nine NCAA Regionals.

One of the trademarks of Alabama teams under Wells is the ability to keep the games close and then win the game with a late-inning rally. The Crimson Tide has posted 240 come-from-behind wins in Wells' tenure, including two this season. In addition, Alabama has won 75 games in its last at-bat, including 35 walk-off wins.

"Coach Wells never quits," Norris added "He taught us we are always in every game no matter who we play. He always said play until the final out. We won a lot of games in the late innings or the last inning and his teams are still doing that today. That is a credit to him and the way he coaches the game. He would never let us give up."

That attitude has afforded Wells the opportunity to become the school's all-time winningest baseball coach. The players associated with those are happy for their former coach, but happy to be a part of the tradition and laying the foundation for the future of Crimson Tide baseball.

"This is very special to know that I was a part of some of those wins, and some very big wins, too," Andy Phillips (1999 1st Team All-American) said Thursday after going 2-for-2 in the NY Yankees first exhibition game and swatting a solo home run in the sixth inning. "This speaks volumes about who he is as a coach and proves what I have said all along that he is the greatest coach in the game of baseball.

"Coach Wells is very intense. His knowledge is second to none. The intangibles that he brings to the game are amazing. There is no question that I am still playing today because of him. He saw more in me than I ever saw in myself. Without Coach Wells, I don't think I'd be in pro ball today."

Norris is headed to spring training with the Braves on Saturday and was not able to attend Friday's game, but says he still feels as much a part of the program today as he did when he caught in 1995-96.

"It definitely means a lot to me," Norris said from his Florida home. "I called him on Thursday to congratulate him on tying the record and to wish him well tonight. What he has done the last 12 years is truly outstanding. I see the College World Series games on TV and I think about the games we played there.

"When you look at all the guys he has coached, whether playing baseball or running a business, we have a lot of successful people. He has developed quality guys.

"I still feel a part of the program today and follow the team every day. I talk to Coach Wells a lot. We got it going in the right direction and I was glad to be a part of that."

For Wells, the road to becoming Alabama's winningest coach began with that one-run win on Feb. 18, 1995. It has been a long journey with many successful seasons along the way and with more miles and wins to be covered.

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